Late January 1945 saw the reopening of the Burma Road, an important supply route linking Burma (now known also as Myanmar) and China. It also saw the completion of a 465-mile bypass called the Ledo Road that connected to the Burma Road.
Both roads represented Herculean construction tasks often overlooked in the telling of great sagas of World War II. The double road building operation employed some 28,000 U.S. engineer troops and 35,000 locals for more than two years, carving a passable road through dense jungles and treacherous mountains. It is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the war and one of the toughest road construction jobs ever attempted.
A fact poorly attributed at the time was that the majority of the U.S. troops involved were African Americans. Blacks served in all capacities, from manual laborers and heavy equipment operators to nurses and doctors staffing field hospitals for injured Chinese and American workers. By some accounts, the more than 1,000 miles of roads built cost the life of nearly one man per mile.
China built the original Burma Road in 1938 during the Second Sino-Japanese war. Japan occupied most of coastal China at that time and China desperately needed an inland route for supplies and war materials. In April of 1942, Japan closed and destroyed much of the road, forcing Allied forces to fly materials “over the hump” (the Himalayas) into China. Restoring an overland route from India to China was seen as critical to the effort of driving the Japanese out of China.