Military Intelligence Service
In June 1945, Dick is sent to China for parachute training.
He is briefed on a mission to be conducted in French Indochina. When atomic bombs are dropped in Japan, and surrender deemed likely, the mission is cancelled.
Dick is then assigned to Operation Magpie to rescue POWs in Peiping, China.
Unaware of war’s end, Japanese soldiers in Peiping briefly detain the members of Operation Magpie.
The liberated POWs are in fairly good shape but underfed.
Our new assignment was in China. But majority of the hard work by our people was done up to the point, when we were shipped out from Burma to China.
[We left Bhamo, Burma for Kunming, China in June of 1945.] Shortly after we got to China we were instructed to go to parachute school. You know, there’s a funny situation. Those instructors, although they were enlisted men, they had quite a lot of power, so to speak. There was a colonel training with us and he was not in the best of physical shape. The instructor, being a sergeant, intimidated him, telling him to keep up with the gang.
So the colonel got into a bad argument with him. As I was listening, this is what the sergeant told him: “If you don’t want to go through jump training just pack your things and leave.” The colonel wanted to turn him in but he had no grounds. And I saw that and I thought, well, here is a sergeant telling the colonel, pack your stuff and go. That was funny. We didn’t quite finish the training. I was told that I was going to be sent on another mission.
Mission in French Indochina
So I gathered with our group into this conference room, briefing room. The French military attache gave us the lowdown on the area and what to expect. He says, “I firmly believe that none of us would make the mission and return simply because, for one, that bridge is well guarded.” [This bridge in French Indochina] was highly used by the [Japanese] military. The military camp was less than half an hour from that area. They had pretty good roads from the camp to the site of the bridge.
Even if we were successful in destroying the bridge, your next obstacle was the monsoon season. The rivers were flooded. It was really flooded. “I doubt whether any of you would be able to cross the river.” And there were several rivers. “Secondly, after you successfully cross that you will run into Chinese bandits, bands of bandits, in that area far away from the Americans. The Americans will not be there to help you because they’re so far away. If you are able to survive the Chinese bandits, you will end up in the American area. You’d be safe.”
But he says, “I doubt whether you’d be able to make it.” He wasn’t telling us just for the joke of it. He really meant it. In other words, he said the mission is not worthy of doing. But on the morning that we were to parachute, the first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima. That was August the 6th. Three days later, Nagasaki. We got word that Japan might surrender, so our mission was put on hold and we were ordered to return to Kunming as fast as we could make it. We were lucky enough to have our mission cancelled.
Watercolor. "Dick Hamada I am happy to have been a part of this Historic Raid. Lt. Chase Nielsen, Navigator Crew #6"
When we got back to Kunming I was told that I was going to go out on a mission to get the military, Americans as well as the Allied soldiers, who were captured [and held] in the Peiping [now Beijing] area.
[We were split up and sent on mercy missions to different parts of China and Indochina to free prisoners of war.] I was assigned to Operation Magpie and ordered to parachute to Peiping. There were about [eight] operations. [There was Operation Magpie in Peiping, Operation Duck in Weihsien, Operation Flamingo in Harbin, Operation Cardinal in Mukden, Operation Sparrow in Shanghai, Operation Quail in Hanoi, Vietnam, Operation Pigeon in Hainan Island and Operation Raven in Vientiane, Laos.]
Team “Operation Duck,” Parachuting into Weishien, China, Concentration Camp from B24 Bomber where 1,500 interns were rescued on August 17, 1945. Bottom to top: Maj. Stanley Staiger, Sgt. Tad Nagaki, Ensign James Moore, Sgt. Peter Orlich, Ed Wong, Lt. James Hannon and T/4 Ray Hanchulak. Sketch drawn by rescued intern.
There were seven of us [on this mercy mission]. There was Major [Ray] Nichols, Captain [Edmund] Carpenter, [Lieutenant Fontaine] Jarman, [Jr.], Lieutenant [Malhon] Perkins, the radio operator, [T/5 Nestor] Jacot, and [Corporal Melvin] Richter and myself.
Lieutenant Perkins was a Chinese[-language] interpreter of one dialect and [Corporal Melvin] Richter was an interpreter for another dialect. I was the only nisei that spoke Japanese.
Our group left Hsian on the 17th [of August, 1945]. We got surrounded [by Japanese soldiers] after landing [in Peiping].
There were about twelve soldiers with bayonets, surrounded us. As I parachuted I could see the soldiers in a skirmish surrounding the field. When we landed, a truck with a white flag and about twelve soldiers came up to our site and greeted us rudely.
None of us had a rifle. All we had was sidearm because we were told that the Japanese were surrendering. But, apparently, the word never got to the lower echelon. They said, “The war is not over, so get in the truck.” So, Major [Ray] Nichols, Lieutenant [Malhon] Perkins and I got into the truck and they took us to their headquarters.
When we got to the headquarters, Major [Nichols] told the [Japanese] officer of the day that the war was over. He likewise says, “No, the war is not over.” He said, “Wait till General Takahashi comes. He’s on his way now.” So, we waited. In the meantime we were served tea. But, I had no feeling for tea. It was hot and I was perspiring. I guess, I didn’t even trust drinking that thing. There might be poison, you know. But anyway, we waited.
Then, when the general arrived, he apologized and he says, “I know you’re here for the prisoners but I must receive an order from Nanking,” which was the [site of the] supreme headquarters, “to release the prisoners.” General Takahashi was a lieutenant general. He was in charge of the China, Peiping area. So he says, “Please.” He apologized, saying that, “In a couple of days, I will release the prisoners.” In the meantime, he says, “All talk about prisoners cease,” and he told of his experience going to America, New York [before the war]. He was amazed, very impressed with the tall, tall buildings in New York.
So, the officers got involved and I translated and we had a nice talk. But then, [General Takahashi] said, “I’m going to set you people over at the Wagon-Lits Hotel,” which is Americanized, but no hot water. He says, “You will be safe there.” So, that was it. He said, “I’ll see you folks later,” and he got into his car, the general got into his car with his staff, and we followed.
But no sooner we got into the car, someone fired a shot at us, but nobody got hurt. The general came out and looked around. And wherever we saw a soldier standing he was saluting the general at attention.
He said, “If you people had landed about this time,” which was just starting to get dark, he says, “I’m sure all of you would have been killed.” And he said, “Please, don’t go roaming around after you get in the hotel. Stay at the hotel. I will send two of my gendarmes” — military police in civilian clothing — “to take care of you. If you want to go anywhere you tell the gendarmes that you want to go and they’ll take you. Then you’d be safe.”
So, we got to the hotel. A few days later a group of military officers, Japanese officers, came to the hotel. He says, “I will take you to the prison.” And so, we were all ready to go. Would you believe it? Major [Nichols] ordered all the enlisted personnel to remain in the hotel.
[There were] three of us. The radio operator [Technician Fifth Class (T/5) Nestor Jacot], myself, and a Chinese interpreter [Corporal Melvin Richter]. He was an American GI. I can see the [Swiss Consul General] was there and our officers were there. They begged the major to take us along. [Major Ray Nichols] says, “No, I’m ordering them.” Till today I haven’t found the answer why he had ordered [the enlisted personnel to stay behind].
See, back in my mind I can see he was, this major, assigned to OSS in Germany area. He had no involvement with niseis or the likeness of us. I felt that there was a dislike [of] the niseis. Because he was not involved with niseis, he couldn’t just tell me to stay [back]. He ordered the enlisted personnel to stay [back]. And so I inquired about the two officers that are alive today and they said they had no reason why. The Swiss consul said, “We have a lot of room, we have a lot of cars. Take them along, please.” He really begged. But the major says, “No, they’ll remain in the [hotel].”
[I was angry that we were ordered to stay back.] It was almost uncontrollable. But, the thing is, an order is an order. I was not about to counterattack, so to speak. The others, they were really mad too. The question was, aren’t we part of the team? We had no love for [the major] for treating us like we were a bunch of enemy members instead of part of the team. I think if we had followed through and filed a complaint to the upper echelon, I think we would have won. But, it was water under the bridge.
But, fortunately, no sooner they left, the prisoners were brought to the hotel. There were about fifty of them. I was told there was some six hundred and fifty for Allies and Americans [to be rescued in China and Indochina], but at that moment I only saw about fifty of them.
Majority of [the prisoners of war] were in pretty good shape. More so, the night that we gave them the party there were words being echoed throughout the hall thanking us individually. They all came up to us, shook our hands and thanked us. I guess that atmosphere of being relieved, liberated from the enemy, psychologically did something good for them. They didn’t look that bad. Many of ’em were skinny and underfed.
Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.