Saga of the Merrill’s Marauders
By Akiji Yoshimura
In the late summer of 1943 certain events took place, which were to shape the military lives of some 3,000 American troops, among them 14 Nisei GI’s and their officer of mixed American and Japanese parentage.
FIRST: The Quebec Conference of Allied Leaders authorized the creation of an American ground combat unit for the China-Burma-India Theater, the first such troops to fight on the Asiatic continent since the Boxer Rebellion.
SECOND: A call for volunteers for an undisclosed mission was issued to all infantry units in the continental United States, the Caribbean Defense area, and in the South Pacific combat zones.
THIRD, and striking closer to home: The names of 14 or more Nisei graduates of the Military Intelligence Language School, Camp Savage, Minnesota, were being evaluated and investigated to establish their qualifications for what we were soon to learn was a “Dangerous and Hazardous Mission”.
The first indication that something big was brewing happened in mid-August of 1943, when the school brass swooped down on the Ft. Snelling barracks where the graduates were billeted and awaiting overseas assignment. There was a flurry of activity, conferences and other rather obvious attempts to be secretive. At the time, I was involved in a somewhat dull, uninspiring duty of translating a field manual on the operation and maintenance of a Japanese Artillery piece with 1st Lt William A. Laffin. One day Lt Laffin began questioning me about the state of my health, marital status, language proficiency, interests, etc. At first I thought it was a manifestation of a warm and friendly concern of an officer for his enlisted man, but I soon discovered that his interest in me was more military than personal.
In due time I found myself closeted in a small room with Lt Laffin, where he offered the opportunity to volunteer for a “secret and dangerous mission”. In spite of myself, I must have managed to utter a feeble, “Yes sir, thank you sir,” because shortly thereafter I discovered my name on a list of 14 EM’s with orders to report to the Port of Embarkation, San Francisco. Leading the contingent of Nisei volunteers was Lt Laffin, a former Ford Motor Company executive in Japan, who had been interned after Pearl Harbor and repatriated to the United States on the Exchange Ship, Cripsholm. Lt Laffin (later captain) was killed in action in the Battle of Myitkyina in I Northern Burma in May 1944.