OSS Detachment 101, CBI Theater
By Ralph Yempuku, Col., USAR, Retired
My World War II service happened to be so much more difficult to me than to others, because my whole family had returned to Japan before the War and I faced the possibility of confronting my three brothers in the Japanese armed forces. This predicament is dramatized in the book, Our House Divided, by Tomi Kaizawa Knaefler.
After the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I served with the Hawaii Territorial Guard until all Nisei guardsmen were discharged on January 19,1942. Then I became part of the 170 Nisei in the labor battalion known as the "Varsity Victory Volunteers." This movement influenced the War Department into the formation of the 442nd Combat Team in January 1943.1 volunteered for the 442nd and went to Camp Shelby as an officer because I held an army reserve commission.
Around November 1943 at Shelby, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) solicited volunteers for a special mission in the Far East. I was selected along with Lieutenants Dick Betsui, Junichi Buto and Chiyoki Ikeda and 20 enlisted men. We proceeded to Camp McDowell, Illinois, to be trained in radio communications and then to Camp Savage MISLS to study military Japanese. By this time the 20 enlisted men had been reduced to Tom Baba, Dick Hamada, Fumio Kido, Wilbert Kishinami, Shoichi Kurahashi and CalvinTottori from Hawaii and Susumu Kazahaya, George Kobayashi, Tad Nagaki and Takao Tanabe from the mainland. We shipped out of Savage in August 1944 and landed on Catalina Island for combat ranger training (demolition, beach landings, infiltration, jungle survival).
Nisei MIS attached to OSS Detachment 101 go through Guerrilla, Ranger, survival training on Catalina Island, Calif. Sep 1944.
Front Row, L-R: Calvin Tottori, Sho Kurahashi, Fumio Kido, Wilbert Kishinami, Tad Nagaki (mainland), Takao Tanabe (Mainland), Dick Hamada and Tom Baba. Back row, L-R: Susumu Kazuhaya (mainland), LT Ralph Yempuku, LT Richard Betsui, MAJ Crowe, LT Junichi Buto, LT Chiyoki Ikeda, and George Kobayashi (mainland)
We flew out of Miami, Florida, in late October 1944 and reached OSS HQ in New Delhi, India, where we split up for service with various outfits in the China-Burma-India Theater. Lt. Buto, Baba, Hamada, Kido, Kurahashi, Tottori and I were assigned to Detachment 101 guerrilla operations in Burma.
Det. 101 consisted of a few Americans, British and Burmese, as well as several thousand Kachin tribesmen. Our mission called for us to be dropped behind Japanese lines to supply and aid the guerrillas, to ambush, blow up bridges, cut communication lines and generally harass the Japanese 34th Division in Northern Burma while Gen. Stilwell's Chinese Divisions and Merrill's Marauders attacked frontally. We flew into Myitkyina in December 1944 after its capture and then deployed on various missions from the Myitkyina OSS Headquarters.
I was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of Det. 101 with seven Americans, a few Burmese and 200 Kachins, natives of the North Burma mountains and fierce warriors who hated the Japanese. Being the only Nisei, I was introduced by Capt. Joe Lazarsky on the first day in front of all the Kachin guerrillas as "an Americansoldier." He ordered them to study my face; so, they wouldn't shoot me as a Japanese! A Burmese named Namba served as my interpreter with the guerrillas because he knew Japanese and we communicated in "nihongo," not English. We flew in behind Japanese lines south of Myitkyina in the areas of Namhkam, Kutkai and Lashio on a mission, to bomb bridges and cut off the Burma Road from Japanese forces. We traveled over jungle trails, camped in the wilds and ambushed and harassed the Japanese. We received intelligence information from the native Shan and Palaung villagers using gold coins and opium as payment. By then the Japanese knew of our operations and I learned they had placed a price on my head, about $20,000! Since we operated strictly by hit and run, we didn't have any captured documents to translate or Japanese ROWs to interrogate, because they do not surrender. So, frankly, Nisei linguists had little to do in those OSS operations. I stayed in the field for three months until our forces captured Lashio. Our pulling out, however, permitted the Chinese Army to enter and take the credit. News headlines read: "Chinese Armies storm Lashio!"
Back in Bhamo OSS HQ, Col. Peers asked me to parachute into a valley where 500 Japanese were concentrated, and to persuade them to surrender. I told Col. Peers, 'The Japanese will never surrender," and tried to kill the project. Fortunately, the reports proved false. We then sped south for the invasion of Rangoon, but the Japanese Army had retreated further southward. By then Gen. Stilwell's strategy of clearing North Burma of Japanese occupation had succeeded, and Detachment 101 disbanded on July 12, 1945. After Lt. Buto, Hamada, Kido and I received assignments to Detachment 202 in Kunming, we drove the Burma Road from Bhamo over the "Hump" (Himalayas) into Kunming.
In Kunming the OSS trained us for parachute jumps, as one of its ideas was to drop us Nisei into Japan for guerrilla operations. We said, "No way could it succeed or could we survive." But when peace followed the Hiroshima/Nagasaki A-bombing in August 1945, the OSS dropped its units into Japanese prison camps in China and Korea in mercy missions to rescue Allied POWs. Kurahashi and Kido dropped into Mukden Prison Camp while our six-man team parachuted onto Hainan Island, where we rescued mostly Australian and Dutch POWs and set up protective security, hospital facilities and evacuation procedures. For these "humanitarian missions," members of 0SS jump teams were awarded the Soldier's Medal.
We sailed from Hainan on a destroyer to Hong Kong, just in time to witness theJapanese surrender ceremonies at the Peninsula Hotel on September12, 1945. Back in Kunming, I met a Nisei named Uehara. who interrogated a large number of Japanese POWs and told me he saw a POW who looked exactly like me. On questioning, he discovered the POW was my brother, Donald Yempuku, who, in turn, told Uehara he had seen me at the surrender ceremonies in Hong Kong.
(As written in the book, Our House Divided, pages 85-86, Donald acted as interpreter for the surrendering Japanese officials and saw his brother Ralph in American uniform. He was happy to see Ralph alive, but as the defeated enemy, he felt too embarrassed to call out to Ralph in front of that assemblage; so, the brothers being on opposite sides in World War II, never got to greet each other at that historic surrender.)
Later I found out all three of my brothers--Toru, Goro and Donald--had been drafted into the Japanese Army and became POWs of the American Army.(Courtesy of "Secret Valor" by Military Intelligence Service Veterans Club of Hawaii.)