Delayed Recognition in the CBI Theater: A Common Problem?
- Arthur T. Morimitsu
After speaking with several fellow veterans, I decided to include in my account of service in the China-Burma-India theater references to MISers who served overseas while detached to various units and who, consequently, were denied awards and promotions given to GIs who served in the same campaigns.
Our 15-member MIS team was attached around August 1944 to the 124th Cavalry Regiment of Texas at the Ramgarh Training Center in India. The 124th combined with the 475th Infantry Regiment, which included remnants of a battalion of Merrill’s Marauders, to form the Mars Task Force, a commando organization whose mission it was to infiltrate behind enemy lines along the Burma Road in order to cut off their supplies and reinforcements. Operating in North Burma, we started in January 1945 with a month-long forced march from Camp Landis near Myitkina, Burma, and forced the enemy to retreat south to Rangoon.
After the campaign was successfully completed our MIS team was ordered back to India. Kan Tagami, our team leader, had taken over after our language officer had been flown back to base hospital part way through the forced march. Tagami and I were ordered to deliver a Japanese POW to MP headquarters in Calcutta. When we reached the headquarters compound, all three of us clad in GI uniforms, an MP who saw us asked, "Which one is the POW? " I recall being glad that I had not been born in Japan.
After we reached New Delhi, I was assigned to OSS Detachment 303 where I headed a team of three Nisei charged with interrogating Japanese POWs held at the Red Fort in Old Delhi. Other Nisei units did the same. All this was in preparation for the invasion of Japan. One day OSS Capt. Joe Coolidge wanted me to go with him to visit some Japanese nurses who had been captured and were at a British hospital. After speaking with the nurses for a while, Capt. Coolidge wanted me to ask the nurses if they wanted to go to the U.S. They all said, "Yes". He then told me to say that they had to marry a Nisei first. They all then said, "No." I knew that Japanese soldiers were told by their family members that if they were ever captured they were never to come home again. Evidently the women felt the same way.
Toward war's end, Tagami and I were both up for field commissions, but before I was able to complete the course before the examining board, our MIS team was ordered to Kunming, China, and so I went with them. Tagami was able to stay behind and receive his commission. He later was assigned to Tokyo where he became General MacArthur's personal interpreter. He was well qualified having served as an instructor at Camp Savage.
Japan surrendered when I was in Kunming, and the Chinese went mad with joy. One day I came across Colonel Loren Pegg, our 124th Cavalry Regiment commander, and so I told him that after the Burma campaign was over; all the Texans got the Combat Infantryman's Badge and the $10 extra per month but that the brass in India said our MIS team was not part of the Texas regiment and so we were disqualified. Col. Pegg said this was wrong and wrote out a directive from the China theater and so we got the CIB and the $10 per month retroactively.
>From Kunming I was sent to Shanghai where I was assigned to a special team which was to travel to T'aiyuan, Shansi Province, in North China, to observe the surrender ceremony of 60,000 Japanese troops under Gen. Shimada. I was the lone MISer in our detachment commanded by Major Richard Irby and 1st Lt. Jeffrey Smith. There were two Chinese Army officers in our group.
After reaching T'ai-yuan, a walled city which had been under Japanese command for over eight years, we saw Japanese civilians getting ready to return to Japan. Japanese soldiers were still marching around, fully armed. Our detachment visited various Japanese installations-hospitals, etc. We commandeered a Chinese hotel and were in T'ai-yuan nearly a month.
One night one of our Chinese officers said his informants had told him that the Japanese were destroying documents at their headquarters. We had eleven Americans at T'ai-yuan, including a number of OSS officers and men. They decided to raid the Japanese headquarters one night, so we went there and I was ordered to tell the Japanese, who were in a fort-like building, to open up the gate. Our Americans were behind me with their submachine guns and pistols. After the gate was opened, we saw one officer, whom we pushed aside, and we then proceeded to search the headquarters office thoroughly. Photographs were taken but nothing of value was found I was glad that the Japanese knew that the Emperor had ordered them to surrender since there were only eleven of us surrounded by 60,000 Japanese and an untold number of Chinese solders who had grown chummy with the Japanese military. We met with the last remaining warlord in China, Marshal Yen Hsi-shan, at his headquarters. He had his Chinese interpreter, who had been educated at a Japanese university, while I'd had four to five months at Camp Savage. Fortunately, nothing difficult was discussed. We also met later with Gen. Shimada but again nothing vital was discussed. Soon we heard that the warlord's army was already fighting the Red Chinese. After nearly a month, our Chinese officers said the local newspaper controlled by the warlord had written that the Americans would be leaving shortly. This was news to us but as it turned out we left T'aiyuan soon thereafter without observing the surrender ceremony.
Some 35 years later I read in the 124th Cavalry Association Newsletter that the Jeff Smith I had known in China was now Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Smith, commander of the 1st Army at Ft Meade, Maryland. I wrote to Gen. Smith and he wrote right back a very warm letter reminiscing about our one month stay in T'ai-yuan. In 1986 Shig Kihara asked me to be the midwest representative of the San Francisco Go for Broke organization at the dedication of the Yankee Samurai photo exhibit at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. I wrote to Gen. Smith and wondered if we could meet there. He called me one morning and said that if I would go he also would go. I flew down to Norfolk and met Gen. Smith, who had driven five hours from his home in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife. We attended the dedication ceremony where Judge William Marutani and Key Kobayashi (both later founding members of the Japanese American Veterans Association) spoke with Mrs. Douglas MacArthur as special guest.
At lunch to which Gen. Smith had invited me, I mentioned the fact that MISers had often been left out when awards were handed out. He told me that if I could vouch for someone like that, he would try to do something about it. A few years later, I read about Harry Akune, who had parachuted down to Corregidor, and who had not received recognition for his heroics -- not even the Combat Infantry Badge. I wrote to James Oda, a member of the MIS Club of Southern California who had served as an enlisted instructor at Camp Savage and who was a friend of Akune. He in turn referred me to Jack Herzig, who had been with Akune and was trying to help him get his award. I received various documents from Herzig and asked Gen. Smith if he could help out. Gen. Smith contacted Army authorities and even wrote to Lt. Gen. Allen Ono, who was at the Pentagon as chief of personnel. I saw Ono's letter in which he said that if Akune's recommendation came to him, he would okay it. Unfortunately the Army is apparently very rigid and so Akune never got his Combat Infantry Badge.
Following my presentation at the National Capital Reunion, Jack Herzig, who was in attendance, told me he was glad that I had spoken up about Akune. I also talked to MISers like Sam Isokane, who was with the Marines and never received recognition for his work. Eleven MISers with the Army on Guadalcanal who, early in the war, demonstrated conclusively the loyalty and value of Japanese American servicemen, never got due recognition although the Army decided to recruit more MISers and also instituted the formation of the 442nd RCT because of the record established by these Nikkei.
Gen. Smith (Ret.) is a member of the Go For Broke Nisei Veterans Association Honorary Committee, along with Gen. Ono and James H. Mukoyama, Jr., Major General, USAR.