August 1, 2011
Sketches in Diplomat’s Papers Reveal Story of Headhunters and Wartime Heroism
Washington, DC…On August 2, 1943, a U.S. Army Air Force transport plane crashed during a World War II supply mission in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Sixty-eight years later, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum supervisory archivist Sam Rushay uses documents from the Papers of John Paton Davies to tell the remarkable story of survival and heroism of Davies and others who survived the crash and encountered alleged head hunters. Mr. Rushay’s article will appear on August 2 in Prologue: Pieces of History, the blog of Prologue, the quarterly journal of the National Archives.
Rushay also relates the story in this 3:09 minute "Inside the Vaults" video short "Headhunters and U.S. diplomat John Paton Davies," produced by the National Archives:
This video is in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives encourages its use and free distribution.
In 2010, the Truman Library opened the papers of U.S. diplomat John Paton Davies. Davies, who died in 1999, was one of the State Department’s "China hands" whose careers were later ended during the McCarthy era.
Davies served in the U.S. embassy in Chungking, China during World War II. Among Davies’ papers were primitive, childlike sketches whose meaning was less than clear. In his article, Rushay tells the riveting story of Davies’ adventure and the critical role played by the sketches.
On August 2, 1943, Davies, CBS News correspondent Eric Sevareid and 19 other men boarded a C-46 transport plane in India en route to Chungking, where they were to meet U.S. wartime allies.
Their flight path took them over the Burma "hump," but as they crossed the mountains, one of the plane’s engines failed, and all 21 men parachuted out. Twenty men survived. They were met on the ground by an indigenous Burmese tribe known as the Naga, who were thought to be headhunters.
Davies tried to communicate with the Naga by drawing sketches. They were met, he writes, with "blank incomprehension." Rushay’s article tells the full story of Davies’ time with the Naga, based on the diplomat’s papers, including an unpublished manuscript, now in the holdings of the Truman Library. In 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall awarded Davies the Medal of Freedom, in part for his leadership during the encounter with "head-hunters."
Background on "Inside the Vaults"
"Inside the Vaults" is part of the ongoing effort by the National Archives to make its collections, stories, and accomplishments more accessible to the public. "Inside the Vaults" gives voice to Archives staff and users, highlights new and exciting finds at the Archives, and reports on complicated and technical subjects in easily understandable presentations. Earlier topics include the conservation of the original Declaration of Independence and 1297 Magna Carta, the new Grace Tully collection of documents at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library, and the transfer to the National Archives of the Nuremberg Laws. The film series is free to view and distribute on our YouTube channel [http://tiny.cc/Vaults].
Created by a former broadcast network news producer, the "Inside the Vaults" video shorts series presents "behind the scenes" exclusives and offer surprising glimpses of the National Archives treasures. These videos are in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives encourages the free distribution of them.
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