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Welcome to Shangri-La.

JAMES RIZZO GREW UP NEAR the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Maybe that had nothing to do with his wartime fate, but when he was drafted into the military in 1942, at age 20, he landed in the army.

After basic training at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri, Jimmy Rizzo and a band of wilderness-savvy Louisiana boys were assigned to the Fifth Army's 96th Infantry Division. Little did they know that, as Rizzo later quipped, they were headed to Shangri-La.

In 1943 the men boarded a Liberty ship for Algeria and there were transferred to the British transports Banfour and Oriana, referred to by some as "coffin corners" due to their vulnerability to enemy planes. The nickname proved darkly appropriate when a German bomb sank the Oriana in the Mediterranean. Rizzo, luckily, was on the Banfour, which was spared.

After further travels, and a Christmas dinner of bread and cheese during which Rizzo "had to pluck out the weevils in the cheese," the boys of the 96th finally arrived at their post along the Burma Road. They reported to General Joseph Stillwell to serve alongside Chinese and Burmese soldiers. Rizzo worked as a warehouseman with the special operations group known as Merrill's Marauders. His main job was to fix electrical equipment and deliver generators and other supplies.

The Burmese jungle gave the 96th its share of challenges: monsoons, unbearable heat, harsh terrain, impure drinking water, and the constant torment of leeches and scorpions. Supplies were often airdropped into the jungle, but Japanese air raids made retrieving them dangerous. Many men became so hungry that they ate their own pack mules. These stories rarely made it back to the States, because no one was on location to report them. "American reporters didn't go there," Rizzo said. "No one wanted to go there."

By war's end, Rizzo had been promoted to corporal and then to sergeant. He returned home after 18 months in the jungle weighing 135 pounds--and his mother immediately started cooking. Though he readjusted to civilian life without serious difficulty, every morning for years afterward he checked inside his shoes for pests.

Submitted by Rose Miello Warren of Blainedge, New York. Jimmy Rizzo, who is now 96 years old, is a friend of her daughter's mother-in-law.

Caption: Left: Jimmy Rizzo served with Merrill's Marauders in the China-Burma-India theater. Right: The unit's commander, Frank Merrill (holding the maps), in the Burmese jungle.

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Title Annotation:GIs; James Rizzo
Author:Warren, Rose Miello
Publication:America in WWII
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
Words:399
Previous Article:An Ordinary Fellow with Silver Wings.
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