Dick Hamada
Military Intelligence Service

Detachment 101, Burma

Dick ciphers and deciphers messages. He reports casualty figures to headquarters in Bhamo.

His first field assignment is to translate captured documents and to interrogate prisoners, but there are no POWs to question because they commit suicide or are shot by fellow soldiers to evade capture.

Native soldiers, known as Kachin Rangers, respect and treat Dick well. Kachin help ambush the enemy.

With no training, Dick does a parachute jump.

Ciphering

We went through jungle training and got involved very heavily in communication and ciphering messages and deciphering messages. The means of communication is very simple in that there’s a book that was printed for the communication department. And this book [had] page number, paragraphs and letters in a group of five. Whenever you sent a message, you just wrote under each letter and the combination of these two letters made you that secret message, which is undecipherable if you didn’t have that book.

The secret to it is — I remember vaguely some of the words, like alphabet M-A-N, there’s a three combination: M and A makes N or N and A makes M. Or F-D-R: F and D, the new [letter] would be R. So, whenever your message is written under these groups of five letters the combination creates a new alphabet. Very simple.

I’ve forgotten most of them, but I do remember M-A-N, because “Man” used to be my nickname that was assigned to me. We tried not to use our real surname or English names. We were assigned secret names and mine was M-A-N. That was assigned by Dr. Buchanan. Before we left he said these are the names that we would be referred to and mine happened to be “Man.” The radio operator always carried [the code book] personally with him. To start with, even if you had the book, unless you know what page, what alphabet or what character group you start with, the message cannot be deciphered. It was a well-kept secret.

I didn’t [carry the book]. Just the radio operator, just one book. If that book is lost, he’d immediately send a message to headquarters saying that the book was lost. Everybody who had that book would destroy the book, we’d burn it and each and every unit, the radio operator, would get a new set of books. It’s unique that way.

So, communication was very simple and I remember well because my partner in the jungle was a radio operator. I was there to help him. Just in case he couldn’t send a message, I was able to send a message myself. Our nightly report to the headquarters, our headquarters was in Bhamo, was a report of action of the day, which involved enemy killed and our casualties. And invariably there were more enemies killed than our people, our [native Burmese] soldiers, the Kachin Rangers. I would say the ratio was thirty to one. So, for every American or a native soldier that was killed, we got thirty of them.

Our nightly report was sent to headquarters and as we monitor the air we can see that our buddies, another battalion — I was in the 1st Battalion. And then 2nd and 3rd Battalions would send their message. We’d say, “Wow, they got five of us.” So next time we’d say, “Oh, we got ten more than they got.” It was like a contest. But, I guess, you’ve got to add a little humor to your action because it was not a picnic spending your time behind enemy lines.

Bhamo, Burma

From Myitkyina we moved [south] to Bhamo, which was our headquarters. Whenever we returned from the field we went back to Bhamo and all assignments were [given] at that headquarters.

The fortunate part about this situation was when we got to Bhamo and then got assigned to the field, this was the year that war was to be completed in Burma area.

OSS-Detachment 101 Kachin Rangers butchering a water buffalo, preparing for a meal.
OSS-Detachment 101 Kachin Rangers butchering a water buffalo, preparing for a meal.

First Assignment

My first assignment was to go out to the field, behind the enemy lines in an L-1, which is a single-engine plane and a single passenger. The field was a crudely built field in the jungle and it was not large.

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It was a very small field and my assignment was to interrogate any prisoner and translate any documents that were captured. But fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, the Japanese soldier would commit suicide, shoot themselves, shoot each other, rather than being captured because they were indoctrinated that we were going to torture them. But it wasn’t so. According to the Geneva Convention we were to treat the enemy with their rights. But they had the idea that they were going to be tortured, so I was never able to interrogate any prisoner because they were all dead.

My first experience when I got there was — our soldiers returned from the front, the field. Well, actually, our action was behind the enemy line. So, when the scouts go out, have a little engagement with the enemy, they come home and I would greet them. I would ask them, “How many did you kill on this trip?”

One of the soldiers said, “Twenty.” And when they saw my face they knew that I didn’t believe them. So, they quickly took out ears from their ammo pouch and showed me, “This is the enemy’s ear.” From that day on I never did doubt their claims. But shortly after that the colonel in Burma, Colonel [William R.] Peers, he was our commanding officer [of Detachment 101], sent a message to all combat battalions out in the field that there would be no more mutilation of enemies. And that stopped from that day on, which I think was a good idea.

Detachment 101, OSS, resting after a long hike, behind enemy lines. Burma.
Detachment 101, OSS, resting after a long hike, behind enemy lines. Burma.

Kachin Rangers

[These were] native [Burmese] soldiers. They were known as the Kachin Rangers. They were youngsters, just barely in their teens, some of them. But because their parents were killed by the enemy, they were willing and gladly fought for us. Each battalion, like in my battalion, there were about two hundred and fifty to three hundred native soldiers. We had the Burmese officers who trained them. We trained them also with our new firearm.

I had much love for these [Burmese] kids because they were really nice to me. I, being a Japanese with a face of an enemy, but yet, I was treated well by these soldiers. In return, since I didn’t smoke, I’d give them my cigarettes, candies, and whatever was given to me I’d share it with them. And they really hung around because they wanted the reward. But it was nice; they were really nice.

Kachin beauty. Behind the enemy line.
Kachin beauty. Behind the enemy line.

[The American soldiers amongst the Kaichin Rangers were] Tom Baba, Calvin Tottori, Shoichi Kurahashi, myself, Ralph Yempuku. There were five of us in the field. Fumio Kido and [Junichi] Buto were in headquarters to do the paperwork. The funny part about it is this: when we were divided into this Burma group, I never did get to meet Calvin Tottori, Tom Baba, and Shoichi Kurahashi. They were sent out on a mission and I never did get to see them, but they were around.

Whenever I returned to headquarters, Fumio Kido was there and Lieutenant Buto was there. But it was just a short pause of rest and then I’d be going out again.

There were only about five of us Americans among the two hundred to three hundred Kachin soldiers. One thing, the respect I got from those soldiers, knowing I was Japanese, but an American. You would call or address an individual like an American, a dua. Dua is a [person] of high stature. I was included in that as an American dua.

What the soldiers did for me was incredible. We’re up in a mountain where there’s no water, and the kids, soldiers, couple of ’em would come up and say, “Dua, do you

want water?” I said, “Yes, my canteen is empty.” I’d give them [the canteen]. They’d walk down to the valley, which is miles, get water, bring it up and give it to me. For that I’d reward them with whatever I had, cigarettes, candy.

You know, as I think about it, I used to see opium in our supply and I inquired. I said, “What is this opium used for?” “It’s used to pay the natives.” I said, “What do you mean pay the natives? They need food, they don’t need money, because you can’t spend money in the jungle, but they can use food or clothing or whatever.” And he said, “No, these natives like opium and they used to smoke those and if you give ’em a pinch of that, they’d really be thankful.” I was not brought up in the land of such chemicals and I couldn’t understand it. But one who is addicted to it would rather have that opium than food. It’s amazing, but it’s a means of payment and they enjoy that. They’d rather smoke than eat, so to speak.

[When there was no interpreter work, I was like any other soldier.] I even asked the commander of our group to take a patrol with these native soldiers and he’d give us his blessing. So we’d go out. Fortunately we never ran into any enemy, but we’d walk all day through the jungle in the trails and we’d return home that night. Of course, there’s not much entertainment and you can never relax. That’s one thing, you can never relax. You must always be awake, vigil, to watch because death can come any moment.

Jungle Warfare

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We set up ambush, and one of the things that I learned to make was a bamboo weapon known as the punji. Punji was [a bamboo stick] sharpened at the end and is baked in the charcoal.

They stick it in the charcoal and that thing crystallizes and becomes very strong just like an iron. We’d stick it into the trail on both sides of the road and get a leaf and stuck the leaf on the top so you couldn’t tell there was a punji there. When the enemy came, start firing, their natural instinct is to jump into the side of the bush and they get impaled. Also, on the trail we dig a hole just high enough — deep enough — so if a man falls in he would get impaled because we’d stick these punjis in the hole and cover it up with soil and grass. It was almost undetectable. If you step and you fall in there, you would get impaled. It may not kill you, but you become incapacitated. This we did a lot.

I sat down with [the Kachin Rangers] making the sharp punjis and it was something that our [soldiers] would not be able to experience. And being it’s not part of an American weapon to start with, it’s a native weapon. They can catch animals likewise, with that. Any animal that will fall, it will get impaled, and be disabled.

We were the only ones setting [booby traps] up. I guess for [the Japanese], they didn’t have time to set up situations because they’re not going to be there. They’re going to have to move, keep moving. So, consequently, we were — as far as I know — the only ones involved in setting up situations.

[When I was there, the] majority of [the Japanese] were on their way out of Burma. Whatever remained were caught in the booby traps that we’d set up. As you think about it, it’s a sad situation to get involved in. Here they’re running and we’re killing. It’s not a very pleasant thought. Survival is one thing that you want to do and yet there are obstacles involved in trying to sustain their daily living.

We did get [jungle warfare and guerilla warfare] training over in Taro, Burma. We went to jungle[-training] school, but there is only so much you can learn at school. Experience is a great teacher and that’s what we did. We set up ambush and hit and run. And we did a lot of running.

Parachute Jumps

[I did parachute jumps] without training. The first session when I went out and returned I ended up in the hospital.

I told the colonel, “I’d like to parachute.” I volunteered. And he said, “Okay.” So, they sent me to, I believe it was Assam, India to have a parachute fitted onto me.

In OSS you do the things before even getting training. Majority of the parachutists did their thing without training. Fortunately, none of us got hurt. We got hung up on trees. I remember the jump I made. I got hung up over ten feet from the ground and there was a branch about this big. I landed with my foot and it broke that particular branch. It was quite a force, but fortunately there were natives around to help me get out of the situation.

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The first mission I was alone with the pilot, and the second mission was a parachute jump with five others: a doctor, a medic — myself — and three other enlisted. The funny part is this: when we parachuted — we had parachute, we can control the parachute and everybody landed. One guy landed on the roof of our shack, a guy landed on a tree, I landed on a tree, one guy landed in a bush, thorny bush.

We had a monkey, Pat. The medic had a monkey and he encased this [monkey] in a capsule, a huge capsule, and he was dropped free without guidance and he landed in the middle of the field (laughs). And all of us that controlled the chute landed in the tree or in the thorny bush or on the house. It was most embarrassing. [The monkey hit the target.] He was the expert. I guess mental training.

Four Major Fears

[I had four major fears. One was being mistakenly attacked by my own forces, secondly was an attack by the Kachin natives or Kachin Rangers, three was tigers, and four was the Japanese enemy.]

There were only about five of us Americans among the two hundred to three hundred Kachin soldiers.

One thing, the respect I got from those soldiers, knowing I was Japanese, but an American. You would call or address an individual like an American, a dua. Dua is a [person] of high stature. I was included in that as an American dua.

What the soldiers did for me was incredible. We’re up in a mountain where there’s no water, and the kids, soldiers, couple of ’em would come up and say, “Dua, do you want water?” I said, “Yes, my canteen is empty.” I’d give them [the canteen]. They’d walk down to the valley, which is miles, get water, bring it up and give it to me. For that I’d reward them with whatever I had, cigarettes, candy.

You know, as I think about it, I used to see opium in our supply and I inquired. I said, “What is this opium used for?”
“It’s used to pay the natives.”

I said, “What do you mean pay the natives? They need food, they don’t need money, because you can’t spend money in the jungle, but they can use food or clothing or whatever.” And he said, “No, these natives like opium and they used to smoke those and if you give ’em a pinch of that, they’d really be thankful.” I was not brought up in the land of such chemicals and I couldn’t understand it. But one who is addicted to it would rather have that opium than food. It’s amazing, but it’s a means of payment and they enjoy that. They’d rather smoke than eat, so to speak.

[When there was no interpreter work, I was like any other soldier.] I even asked the commander of our group to take a patrol with these native soldiers and he’d give us his blessing. So we’d go out. Fortunately we never ran into any enemy, but we’d walk all day through the jungle in the trails and we’d return home that night.

See, my prime assignment was to get involved in interpreting, translating, but I never did get that opportunity to do it because [the Japanese soldiers] were always killed before I could get to them. Being there also to help the radio operator to send communication messages to the headquarters, it was very fulfilling as far as I was concerned.

Of course, there’s not much entertainment and you can never relax. That’s one thing, you can never relax. You must always be awake, vigil, to watch because death can come any moment.

Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.

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