Military Intelligence Service
The Jungle Environment
When Dick runs out of water purification pills, he becomes ill with dysentery.
During monsoon season, the men are susceptible to jungle rot and infection. They also contend with leeches, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and tigers.
There are not many snipers but Dick remains vigilant.
Food, weapons and ammunition are airdropped; the men collect the supplies before the enemy seizes the drop.
Civilians are desperate for food scraps from the soldiers.
The Jungle Environment
I had dysentery. That’s a problem. We used to use a chemical, a little medicine you put into the [stream] water and it will kill the germs.
But the moment we ran out of that medication we had to consume water that was not purified. The moment you drink that you’d end up hitting the trail. It was terrible. Yeah, dysentery, it gets pretty rough and it’s a constant infection. It really weakened you because you can’t consume and retain the food. I was in contact. I was infected with malaria and yellow jaundice. I turned yellow, I mean yellow. It’s all over. My epidermis would be all yellow. But I think the worst situation was dysentery because you can’t consume anything else with that, it all comes out either up or down. So, consequently, because not being able to keep any food down, it weakens you.
The early part I tried to battle it with medical help, but when it got worse I had to be flown out and end up in a hospital. The hospital was close to Bhamo.
[During the] monsoon season, it was constantly wet and our clothing, our boots, was constantly wet. Consequently, if you didn’t dry your feet, you’d end up with jungle rot and it gets infected. Without good feet, you’re no better than dead living in the jungle. So, we used to take care of it. Whenever we got time we used to dry our feet while at rest. It was a real bad situation. You have to sleep in the wet, wake up in the wet, and it was very trying. Including leeches were there to help entertain you (chuckles).
Just walking through the trails, we’d run into leeches and they’re about maybe about two to three inches. They’d just look around for the end of the leaves and the moment you brush the leaf, it’d hang onto you and it crawled into your clothing.
I had one that ended up behind my ear and I didn’t feel anything, but it was so bloated. It was about a finger size. It was full of blood and a guy says, “Eh, you got a leech behind your ear.” And you couldn’t pull it off. It’s slippery to start with and the suction was so great that whenever it’s removed it’d rip off your skin and it will bleed. They [the leeches] have some kind of anti-coagulant chemical that will inject into your body and that area becomes free- flow blood and it just bleeds a lot. So, what the guys used to do was light a cigarette and then apply it close to the leech and that heat would make them release and then we’d kill that thing.
It’s amazing, even your shoelace. I just couldn’t believe that they could crawl through that shoelace, the hole, and go into the socks and between your toes and they’d suck. Because, you can’t feel anything. Like I told you, they would apply an anti-coagulant, which makes the blood free flow. We’ve had people or our military soldiers with that leech going into the penis with just the tail sticking out. You know, you think it’s impossible, but out there many impossible happens and that’s one of that, the leeches.
We used to have mosquitoes. It wasn’t heavily infested, but there were enough mosquitoes to bother you. We’d apply lotion to ourselves to avoid the mosquitoes, but you know they were there. I guess the one that we feared most was the [genus] Anopheles. They carry that malaria.
There were tigers that roamed that area and they were killers. But I’m thankful I was able to survive that. [I never encountered a tiger.] Not face to face. But one night I heard a shot. See, whenever we bivouacked or camped in an area, the Americans were in the middle and our soldiers were on the outskirts like a circular situation. I heard this firing and I inquired what was happening. The next day I was told that at this outpost this soldier heard some noise, a rustling noise, in the bush. Not knowing what it was, he fired a shot. That first shot that he fired, hit the tiger right in the middle of the head. He heard rustling and everything went quiet. So, went up with a flashlight to see. There was a dead tiger.
Going to through the Burma Road, we got involved in an American camp. For the night we’d stay for bivouacking and feeding. During the evening hours the soldiers were entertained by movies. There were bamboo racks built like steps. The soldiers would sit and the natives used to all hang around the side to watch the movie. Well, one of the natives was snatched while standing and watching the movie and he died, naturally. The next day another tiger came, that’s when we went. The next day a shot was fired, but didn’t get the tiger.
All our supplies, food and weapons, ammunition, were airdropped to us. Whenever the enemy sees a plane dropping supplies to us, they know that’s food, they know it’s weapons. So, invariably they would try to help themselves to it, so to speak. Naturally, there’d be resistance. So what we usually do is pick up our supplies and hele [move] on to another position. You know, when you think about it, it seems comical, yet meaningful;thing that we used to do was get the supplies and escape to a new point. I think it is a natural instinct. Always [being] aware that the enemy is there even though you don’t see. It can create quite a stress on an individual because you can never relax. But I’m thankful the good Lord has seen me through that and brought me home.
Not too much snipers, but there were a few on trees. They’d climb a tree. They’d tie themselves to a tree and naturally if he’s shot, he doesn’t fall because he’s tied to the tree. Not too much [shooting at us]. Because, like I said, when we got involved in this action it was the closing phase of the Burma era, so to speak. But we were thankful that we escaped unscathed.
[Supplies] like sugar and salt were free fall, no parachute. Ammunition, weapons, and food, other food, were parachute. [One day], I noticed when the air force delivered supplies in the morning, but they did not complete because of the load situation. It’s not only we getting supplies.
There’s about six battalions located in the Burma area and they all get supplied by air force, just like we do. That particular morning, half of the supply was delivered. Now, whenever deliveries were made, we used to set up with the parachute. We’d cut strips, like we would put two F’s backwards, back-to-back, F’s backwards and they know that F is our target. So, when they see that, they drop it. But that particular morning, after leaving that area, they returned about couple of hours later to drop the balance of the supplies. It so happened that, being that they were there that morning, they knew exactly where we were.
So, without buzzing the area, which they usually do, they approached and dropped the supplies. It was salt and rice in bags, free fall. We saw our animals grazing in that area so we chased the animals away as fast as we could and in no time the bombs of food would drop. I ran behind a tree and that rice and salt came whizzing by and crashed into the tree or near the tree. In that incident [two rangers and three mules] were killed.
There were no communications, it’s just an automatic thing. They didn’t say, “Oh, we’re going to be dropping by in a few minutes, clear the field.” No, it wasn’t such. The field was a small field, being a jungle, and we just cleared up a small area. Their approach was very low, just barely over the treetop and they dropped the thing. It was a sad day for some of our soldiers to get killed, not by enemy, but by our own force.
During the feeding of our troops, passing through, we’d stop by for food. I would see natives standing on the side waiting for handouts. The GIs would eat whatever they can. Whatever extra they’d dump it into this big fifty-gallon drum and then later on bury it. I would see the natives come and pick the food and put it into their cup or plate or whatever they had and they’d eat that.
I saw a mother with a baby on her back and she had a can, a one-gallon can with wires strung. I imagine she cooked rice because the rice was all hard, dried rice. When I saw that I gave her my plate and I almost created a [riot.] All the natives came rushing in and somebody had to fire a shot to stop them from coming in. The guy says, “Don’t ever do that.” Well, first time I did that and I think that my feeling was right to feed the lady with my extra food that I didn’t want. But it almost created a turmoil for us. So, I would dump it into the garbage can and they would help themselves.
But, you know, in the land of plentiness, I used to tell my kids, “Don’t waste food. If you cannot eat it, don’t take more than what you can eat.” And I tell them about this incident, what happened. I guess it did help because wasting food is one. Although we have ample supply, it’s a poor excuse of wasting what you cannot consume. So, I guess, one lesson learned while I was there, did help the family.
Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.