Mistaken For Pow’s

Our journey in quest of adventure and excitement took us across the Pacific aboard the USS Lurline, a Matson luxury liner converted into a troopship. Assembled on board were highly trained infantrymen from the various training centers in the States and jungle trained volunteers from the Caribbean area, who comprised the first two battalions of the unit, which was to be assigned the highly improbable designation “5307 Composite Unit, Provisional”.

A third battalion of battle-tested troops joined the outfit at New Caledonia and Brisbane, Australia. We found that the majority of our fellow passengers were from the Mid-West, New England and Southern States. Many had never seen a Japanese up close, and I suspect that a few had misgivings about sharing passage on an unescorted ship with Japanese whatever their nationality. I recall this incident that occured [sic] as the ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and headed towards the high seas, which indicated to us an urgent need to communicate with all of the troops. A strange GI approached and asked in a rather clumsy but seemingly sincere effort to be friendly, “Say, how’er things in your country?” Without hesitation I replied, “It looks pretty good from here.” Then, noting his confused expression I proceeded to explain to him that this was also my first trip away from the United States. He had the notion, apparently, that we were former Prisoners of War who had a change of heart. One of the most common questions asked of us was: “What do you think that Japanese will do to you if they capture you?” Our stock answer: “I don’t know what they’ve planned for us, but they’ll have to run like hell to catch us.”

And then, there was the GI who asked us to say “Lala Palooza”. He had read somewhere that the Japanese had trouble with the letter “l”, and with typical American resourcefulness had planned to use the tongue twister to determine whether the unseen adversary in the jungle was friend or foe. Our California nurtured English shattered his well laid plans. During the voyage the Nisei lectured to the troopers of the Japanese enemy, their weapons, tactics and physical and spiritual training. By the time we disembarked at Bombay, India, we had convinced the uniformed and the skeptics that we were American in thought, speech and action.

At Deolali, a British cantonment, and at Deogarh in Gwalior Province, our training was begun in earnest. Combat training in long range penetration tactics including forced marches, river crossings, night problems, weapons and range work. All highly intensified by the prospect of a dangerous and arduous mission. The Nisei in addition to brushing up on their Japanese, pored over maps and intelligence reports of the North Burma area and participated in the daily training schedule of the infantry companies. We were fast becoming an integral part of a combat unit as riflemen-interpreter, both roles which were to prove equally valuable in the campaign.