Military Intelligence Service
Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Tired of the routine of basic training, Dick seeks the challenge of something new. He and over a hundred other nisei at Camp Shelby volunteer for hazardous duty with the OSS.Dick is among the nineteen enlisted personnel initially selected. In secret, they travel to Camp McDowell, Illinois. From January to April 1944, the group receives training in communication. Eight are removed for security reasons. Dick and the others are sent to Camp Savage.
Recruitment to the OSS
When the basic training [at Camp Shelby] was just about over, Dr. [Daniel] Buchanan came over to Mississippi with the announcement saying that he was looking for niseis who could speak, read and write Japanese.
[Dr. Buchanan] used to teach in Japan before the war and he was assigned to the Japan desk in Washington, D.C., which was probably the OSS.
So the day of interview, over one hundred of us wanted to volunteer. So we went and we met and spoke with Dr. Buchanan individually. And response was naturally in Japanese. We tried to speak as best as we could.
[The interview was in Japanese,] intermingled with English in between. But professor taught in Japanese, lived in Japan for many years before the war. He was well versed. He could really understand, speak, read and write the language.
He said, “Before you make up your mind to volunteer I want to tell you that this mission will be a very hazardous mission. It will be worse than combat.” By that, I didn’t, or the niseis didn’t, realize how hazardous this was. “Hazard” is, all you can do is die, right? But nevertheless, he said it will be very hazardous and that many of you if selected may not return.
As I thought about it later, he did not say you’re going to be trained and sent to the enemy territory like in Japan and do some underground work. You know, being trained, and not in Japan, but trained at home here, the Japanese language. When locals speak Nihongo [Japanese language] you can detect him like that that he’s a local and not a [native] Japanese. And so it dawned on me at that time that if we were sent there, I think we wouldn’t last too long, because the moment you open your mouth and spoke, you’d be detected as a foreigner.
But nevertheless, in spite of his warning that it was a very hazardous mission and that not too many of us would be coming back, none of us left the room and we were all interviewed. Of the group that attended that meeting, nineteen members were selected: four officers and nineteen enlisted personnel.
We had no idea who was going to be selected. And the only moment when the orders came saying that you, you, you, move on, be selected, was in a secret message, which I never did get to see until after the war. The secret message was sent out that so-and-so is selected and there were nineteen of us enlisted personnel that was selected. I have the message at home.
Dick Hamada. Photo taken at Camp Shelby while attached to the 442nd RCT, HQ Co. 3rd BN, before departing to join the OSS.
I was surprised that I was selected. Because I’m just a country boy. But I was very happy that I was selected and now to undergo different training at different sites, it was exciting.
I think other than knowledge of the language, I guess one must be physically and mentally alert to be able to cope with certain situations. Not, “Gee, what shall I do now?” You have to come out with an answer right there and I guess during the conversation, I think Dr. Buchanan visually saw the reaction time to be able to cope with certain situations in this training and contact with the enemy.
Reasons for Volunteering
I guess, basically I was getting tired of this basic training that we were having. We were just force-marching all the time and I wanted something new, something more exciting. As a youngster, the challenge of something new is more to my liking than when we were going through the routine of training, training, training and not going anywhere.
But no sooner we got into this organization, 442nd left for the European theater, but nevertheless it was I guess more the excitement and I wanted this new type of life that they would provide us. And I’m happy.
I missed my friends, leaving them and going. Now I have a new group of guys that I have to get adjusted to and depend on because you have to look after each other, not only for yourself now. This being a mission, that a team would have to go out, well, we have to look after each other and the group being smaller, it becomes more intimate. And so it was sort of exciting, so to speak.
Warnings and Risks
Well, as a youngster, like I said, I got, you got, more guts than brains. And excitement is what I guess we look forward to, something new. And you don’t, at the time, think about the consequences, what kind of problem that you’re going to be running into. Of course, he [Dr. Buchanan] did tell us that they would provide whatever help they can, but he stressed many a times we had to survive on our own. That means that you have to fight your way, sneak your way out, wherever. But this was a warning that — he said that they would provide as much help whenever they can, wherever they can. And they did. I kind of regret that I had to leave the [442nd] boys that I trained with, but life still must go on. And so I don’t really regret joining this new organization [the OSS].
[Dr. Buchanan] kept stressing that it’s going to be a dangerous mission. He never did tell us that you going to be [sent] over to a Japanese[-held] island and infiltrate the island and do under[cover] work. There was no indication what that dangerous mission was.
Later on we found out, in our training, that they had ideas of sending us to Japan. Like I mentioned earlier, that the moment you open your mouth and spoke, you can tell a foreigner from a native. And this was the only fear that I had.
Traveling in Secrecy
On December 29, , when we were to leave Camp Shelby, we were told, “Don’t speak, don’t talk to any of your friends. Just pack your bags and come to the PX where the trucks will be waiting.” And that’s what we did. I was told later by my friends that survived the war campaign, that they didn’t know what happened to us. We just packed and left and they didn’t know what was going on. That night we just packed our bags, got to the PX, loaded on the bus and we just took off in the cloak of night. Nobody knew what happened to us and our first trip was down to Camp McDowell in Naperville, Illinois.
I don’t remember or I don’t understand [why we stopped at San Bernardino, California before going to Illinois.] Well, I guess our movement must have been eyed by people outside. So that we would not betray our movement, I guess we had to sidetrack and we did a lot of that. And we’d go and we’d stop — our train would stop, only our car now, and we’d stop for days and then be picked up later. And we were not always in a group. We were two of us, individuals — I guess this was to keep the enemy confused. But I can say one thing though, they were very secret-conscious. Very, very secret-conscious.
When we travel by Pullman, we were the only occupants in that [car]. The other cars were just loaded with passengers and our [car] had a military guard on both sides, not to allow anybody to stay in there. So one time a [hakujin, white man] GI happened to pass by and say, “Wow, you got a lot of room here.” So he says, “Can I sit down?” I said, “Be my guest.” And no sooner he sat down, the MP comes in, rush him out. I guess he couldn’t understand why, but nevertheless we were segregated from the others, the public.
Like I said, we traveled as individuals or in groups, small groups, and many a times we go the opposite direction that we’re supposed to end up. And stay a few days on a track without movement and then be picked up later. Very secretive. [While we traveled,] we were in uniform.
Camp McDowell, Illinois
We stayed there from January 3, 1944 to April 4, 1944. Camp McDowell was a communication school where we learned the Morse Code. Every day we’d sit and listen to Morse Code and tried to learn.
We trained in communication, Morse Code, semaphore and flags. But you know, at the end of our training, we were [proficient] enough to receive a message and send a message, and learning radio repairs, the basics. No [Japanese-language training or combat training], none at all, just communication.
At the end of our training [at Camp McDowell], eight enlisted were removed for security reasons. [Later, at Camp Savage, one more enlisted man was released.] You know, all this time when we were there, they checked our background. They even — my mother said — even the naval intelligence came over to the house and questioned the neighbors as well as our parents about my background. And I guess I was acceptable (chuckles).
Of the nineteen [selected], eight were removed initially and that left us only eleven. I think they [the eight who were removed] were all kibeis [nisei educated in Japan]. I don’t know what reasons to determine why they were removed as security reasoning. I guess they didn’t trust. They didn’t have the faith in one who had training in Japan because he can flip over the loyalty.
They never told us [why eight of the nineteen were removed from the group]. They just said it’s security reason, so that was it. So they were removed. I never heard of them after that. I don’t know whether they went back to Camp Shelby or they were assigned someplace else. But nevertheless it was such that they were secretly removed and that was it.
[Of the final group, ten enlisted and four officers,] I don’t think any of them were kibeis. [Calvin Tottori, Shoichi Kurahashi, Fumio Kido, Wilbert Kishinami, Ralph Yempuku, Richard Betsui, Junichi Buto, Chiyoki Ikeda, Dick Hamada, and Tom Baba were from Hawaii. Tad Nagaki, Takao Tanabe, Susumu Kazahaya, and George Kobayashi were from the Mainland.]
Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.