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A Letter from “Somewhere in Burma,” June 1944

by on August 16, 2012


Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

T/Sgt. Edward Mitsukado, a Nisei interpreter with the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), code-named Galahad and usually referred to as Merrill’s Marauders (named after Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill, its commander) “Somewhere in Burma” in mid-June 1944 decided to write a letter to the Commandant of the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) at Camp Savage, Minnesota, about what he had been doing and to suggest improvements for MISLS training.  Col. Kai Rasmussen, the Commandant, liked hearing informally from his former students about what they were doing and what lessons they had learned that could be used by the school in its training of translators and interpreters.

Mitsukado's letter from "Somewhere in Burma"

Mitsukado began his letter to Colonel Rasmussen (see first page scan) by indicating “that the 14 boys who left Camp Savage Sept. 13 of last year [1943] with Capt. [William A.] Laffin have done their job in magnificent style.  They have conducted themselves as soldiers throughout the campaign, and officer[s] and men of this outfit have only the highest praise for them.  They volunteered to come over with the volunteer outfit and have proved themselves beyond any doubt and question.”

After  mentioning the death of Laffin, who was killed in action on May 18 at the Battle of  Myitkyina, Mitsukado reported that presently he and most of his colleagues were still operating in the front, and the others had been evacuated and were probably enjoying a well-deserved rest.  Continuing, he wrote:

Fighting out here is heavy and goes on day and night.  You can hear the machine guns, rifles, and big guns all through the hours. You go to sleep hearing them and wake up with the din still in your ears.  Occasionally the Japanese throw their big shells over this way, and the whistling shells makes you start thinking and wishing for a haven like Savage.  Tsubota and I have a dugout that gives us good security. You can stand in it and still be below the surface. I had to stop Tsubota from digging any deeper as we struck water.  At nights the firing, the tracers, flares, and the fires make one think of a big New Year’s celebration in Chinatown.

Adding to our discomfort out here are the flies that stick to you during the day and mosquitoes that like to serenade to you all night. You can’t eat a meal without a million flies joining you.  Then also the dreaded monsoon has set upon us, and you have all the water and mud you’d ever wish to see and roam around in.

After mentioning a “Good Morning” greeting he had received from General Stilwell, Mitsukado noted:

Marching on the Ledo Road and all through the jungles of a very rough and difficult terrain, we hit the Nips in surprise moves that caught them napping….The marching, close to a thousand miles, was tough and rugged, what with a full field pack, 3-5 days rations, ammunition, rifles, and other odds and ends on your back. Besides those some of us interpreters carried an extra bag containing necessary books and papers. Jungle life is hard to describe. One goes into it with romantic ideas, but that is soon replaced with realism born of sweat and grime and fatigue that hits you to your very bones….

Mitsukado then proceeded to write about the combat experiences of the interpreters, noting “they never hesitated” and had “faced danger, willingly, whenever called upon.”  After making suggestions for MISLS training, he concluded the letter by writing:  “Again I say the boys you sent out here in Burma are carrying on, never forgetting the faith you had in them and the spirit of our officer [Laffin], who, I know, is watching our work from above.”

To better appreciate Mitsukado’s letter, one needs to understand Merrill’s Marauders, a U. S. Army long-range penetration special operations unit in the Southeast Asia Theater of Operations in World War II.  Members of this unit began assembling and training in India during the fall of 1943.  In February 1944, some 2,750 members of the unit, in an operation designed to disrupt Japanese offensive operations, marched into Burma. During the next five months, in the Burmese jungle behind Japanese lines, the unit fought in five major engagements (including at Walawbum and at the Myitkyina airfield) and engaged in combat with the Japanese on thirty-two separate occasions.  As Mitsukado indicated in his letter, “all through the campaign our unit has swept everything before it. We have met the Nips in their chosen ground and have beaten them at every turn.”

The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) unit came to an end on August 10, 1944, when the remaining Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry, another long-range penetration unit. Subsequently General Merrill commissioned Mitsukado a 2nd Lt. and he continued to see service in the China-Burma-India Theater, as did most of the other members of Mitsukado’s group.  For their service with the Marauders they received fourteen Bronze Star medals and a Legion of Merit and the appreciation from all with whom they served.

Rasmussen would make available to Maj. Gen. Clayton Bissell, the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, a copy of Mitsukado letter, and Bissell, in turn, on July 8, 1944, sent a copy of it with a cover letter to Generals McNarney and Hull.  Maj. Gen. J. E. Hull, then Acting Assistant Chief of Staff of the Army’s Operations Division, responded to Bissell on July 12, indicating that in the organization of the second “Galahad Force” arrangement there would be a Nisei detachment and that this was in accord with General Stilwell’s desires, “who recognizes the great value of this personnel in assisting Galahad type operations.”  This new organization, the 5332nd Brigade (Provisional), was activated on July 26, 1944, and would include the 475th Infantry, as well as a team of Nisei translators and interpreters.

Note: The Mitsukado letter is contained in File: MIS Language School, MID Decimal 353, Army-Intelligence Project Decimal File, 1941-1945, Entry 47, Records of the Army Staff, Record Group 319.


Comments

Susan Page August 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

Thanks so much for bringing this slice of history to light.

Rick Blondo August 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Greg, your post struck a chord within me on several levels. As always, your writing is masterfully done and moving. Thank you for sharing the story of those amazing young men.

Cindy Frantsen August 16, 2012 at 4:25 pm

How very interesting; thank you for sharing!

Hansel Haycox August 20, 2012 at 10:51 am

I am historian for Merrill’s Marauders Proud Descendants, an organization devoted to the preservation of the heroism displayed by members of Merrill’s Marauders. I would very much like to have a complete copy of this letter for our archive3s

Robin Waldman August 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Please send an email to archives2reference@nara.gov, and an archivist will be able to facilitate your request.

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