Nisei’s In Action

Because of the nature of the mission, no prisoners were taken. Where then did the Nisei fit into the plan? The linguists were called upon to accompany reconnaissance patrols. In certain situations, they were dispatched beyond the perimeter of defense on listening posts to pick up scraps of information dropped by the Japanese, who conversed loudly secure in their mistaken belief that the Americans could not understand a word that was spoken. On occasion they interpreted on the spot oral commands given by the platoon or squad leader during the “Banzai” attack.

Once when the outfit stumbled over a telephone wire, the Nisei with the aid of the communications personnel tapped the lines and gathered valuable information about enemy disposition and movements. And, of course, there were always the diaries, Battle Orders and other documents to be quickly read and translated for information of immediate tactical I value.

On the Marauders’ first mission, an assault of the village of Walabum where the Japanese were dug in, Hank Gosho distinguished himself both as a riflemen and interpreter. Under heavy enemy fire, Hank interpreted the oral commands, pinpointing the area of attack, thereby making it possible for the platoon to anticipate and shift its fire-power to meet the onslaught.

In another area with the 2nd Battalion, Honda, Matsumoto, Nakada and Sugeta were crouched over a telephone wire-tap interpreting the communication which disclosed the location of an enemy ammo dump, which was subsequently destroyed by US dive bombers. Although under heavy enemy fire, the four Nisei remained on the job gathering intelligence as to movements, disposition and plans.

By the time the Marauders withdrew to less violent areas, they had accounted for 800 enemy dead and forced a major withdrawal of the Japanese. This was achieved at the cost to the Marauders of 8 men killed and 37 wounded. However, midway through the second mission, which were too deep penetrations of from 30-40 miles behind the lines, fatigue, enemy guns and the many and varied jungle diseases began to take their toll. Tsubota, who had been marching despite fever and pain was finally forced out of the campaign. Nakada, too, fell heir to one of the tropical diseases and was evacuated to a Field Hospital in Northern India. Meanwhile, Mitsukado, Hirayabashi, Kono and Yamaguchi were performing outstanding services translating documents at a roadblock at Shadazup. They were all eventually decorated for meritorious achievement.

While the Marauders made maximum use of the element of surprise, they were constantly exposed to counter attacks and envelopment. Near the end of the second mission, after the primary objectives had been accomplished, the 2nd Bn was surrounded on Nhrum Ga Hill by the Japanese and cut-off from elements of the 3rd Bn. The 1st Bn was five day’s march away, recuperating from a highly successful thrust on Shadazup. For 15 days the battle raged at Nhpum Ga, which was later named “Maggot Hill” because of the enemy dead and our own pack animals decaying in the hot and humid Burma weather. The only waterhole near the base of the hill changed hands a number of times, and it was finally necessary to drop plastic containers of water, along with rations and ammo, to the beleaguered members of the 2nd Bn. On Easter Sunday, 1944, elements of the 3rd Bn broke through to effect the rescue, while the 1st Bn, which had made forced marches to reach the scene of conflict, made diversionary attacks to the West and South.

Once again we were to discover that the Nisei had distinguished themselves on the battered and bloodied hill. It was here, perhaps morsthan at any other time during the campaign that Gosho earned his nickname of “HORIZONTAL HANK”. Troops of the 2nd Bn were high in their praise of Honda, Matsumoto and Sugeta who time and again, crawled out of listening posts inviting enemy detection, as well as fire from friendly forces.

On one of these risky excursions into No-Man’s Land, Matsumoto learned that the Japanese planned an attack the next morning in a given sector. With this information, the perimeter was alerted and elaborate preparations made. Came dawn and the attack. The first wave charged and fell under a murderous discharge of weapons at close range. The second wave hit the ground, but Matsumoto forced them on their feet again by screaming, “Charge, Charge!” They charged directly into a devasting [sic] fire of automatics and machine guns.

But for the Marauders, too, the Battle of Nhpum Ga Hill had been disastrous. The original strength of approximately 3,000 was now down to nearly 1,400, and there remained yet another and most difficult mission to achieve — THE CAPTURE OF THE AIRFIELD AT MYITKYINA.

Ahead loomed the Maura Hkyat, the 6,100 foot pass of the Kumon Range, and at best 15 days of climbing and crawling over steep, slippery trails. It was a desperate race against time, the Monsoon season, and the fast deteriorating stamina and spirit of the Marauders. For this final mission, the Marauders were joined by the two regiments of Chinese. Among the Niseis, Hirabayashi, Honda and Sugeta were evacuated because of fever and fatigue.

Captain William Laffin, leader of the linguists and doubling as Unit Intelligence Officer (S-2) led a small advance party of Marauders and native Kachins to survey and prepare the trails leading over the Kumon Range. Our brief farewell meeting at the Unit Hq at Naubum was the last time that I was to see Capt Laffin alive. Quiet and soft-spoken, he was a man of considerable courage and a highly disciplined soldier under fire. Despite the disparity of our military rank, we had always enjoyed a warm, personal relationship. News of his fate at Myitkyina came as a great shock to me, and the few minutes I was able to spend at his graveside near the airstrip seemed a totally inadequate tribute to a fine officer, leader and friend.