Captain William Alfred Laffin
November 10, 1902 - May 18, 1944
Captain William Alfred Laffin was born November 10, 1902 in Yokohama, Japan, son of Thomas M Laffin and Miyo Ishii Laffin. Thomas M Laffin, father of William was born in Hants County, Nova Scotia, Canada had moved to Maine, USA where he acquired American citizenship. Thomas Laffin was a seaman on an American vessel that put into Yokohama Harbor for extensive repairs. While there he met a Japanese girl by the name of Miyo Ishii of Yumoto, Japan and was smitten. When it came time for the vessel to leave, Thomas Laffin decided to stay in Japan unlike the story of the opera, remained in Japan with his beloved Miyo and together they had seven children.
Fawn Isabelle Laffin, a distant cousin was able to relate this incredible story of the Laffin family, particularly William Alfred Laffin. According to his 1922 passport William Laffin was working for the American/British firm known as Sale & Frazar. William attended various schools in the United States. He later worked many years for the Ford Motor Company of Yokohama. It is assumed that William Laffin met his wife, Janet Gertrude Eldridge during one of his visits to the Ford Motor Car Co. in Michigan. The Laffin family struggled during the war. Although their mother was Japanese and the children were born in Japan, they were considered as enemy alien by the Japanese. One of William Laffin’s sister was apprehended and died in 1944 in a Japanese camp, others having to hide away in the mountains or move to America. William’s father, Thomas Laffin was honored for heroic achievement in the Yokohama fire. When the Japanese raided Pearl Harbor, William Laffin was operating a business in Yokohama where he had lived for years and he was promptly arrested and interned. William Laffin and his brother, Thomas Melvin Laffin, Jr. although their mother was Japanese, were considered as American enemy aliens. They were fortunate, as it turned out to be allowed to board the last exchange ship Asama Maru leaving Yokohama, Japan on June 25, 1942 and transferred to the Swedish liner Gripsholm in Mozambique on July 22. 1942 arriving in New York on August 25, 1942.
When the Marines were catching their breath after wrestling Guadalcanal’s Henderson field from the Japanese, Laffin was gazing at the Statue of Liberty from the deck of the Sweden’s exchange ship Gripsholm as it steamed into New York Harbor. The Laffin brothers were fortunate to be able to board the Gripsholm as it was the last ship carrying Americans bound for the United States. Niseis were not allowed to board the last exchange ship. Following his return to the United States, William Laffin proceeded to the Ford Motor Company headquarters only to be informed of his termination. Shortly thereafter William Laffin applied for his first social security card ( on March 11, 1943. Once in the United States, Laffin made up his mind he wanted to go back to fight the Japanese. Since he spoke and read Japanese, he received a commission and went to the Army Military Intelligence School.
According to Seiki Oshiro , MIS records reveal that William Laffin joined the United States Army from Michigan and was sent to the Japanese Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota in 1942 and graduating in July 1943. (Sav 42-12 Section 20 and Sav 43-07 Section 21).
Upon graduation he was commissioned the rank of Captain and was ordered to Burma as Officer in charge of the 14 Nisei Language team assigned to the Headquarters of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) under Brig.General Frank Merrill generally known as “Merrill’s Marauders.” Laffin was to lead the 14 Nisei who would help write history in Burma, but the Pentagon would keep blotting the page. Captain William Laffin became the unit Intelligence Officer (S-2) for Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill’s Marauders, whose objective was to conquer northern Burma and the all-weather Myitkyina airfield from the Japanese. Laffin did not do his “G-2ing” from headquarters. Instead, he took a handful of Americans and Kachin native scouts and went after his own information. His most important mission was one of his last. He led scouts over a seldom-used trail to Myitkyina airfield, an operation that resulted in the Marauders catching the Japanese flat-footed.
HONOR BY FIRE –Lyn Crost
On the way to Myitkyina. the Marauders faced a killing task of climbing-sometimes crawling on hands and knees over steep slippery trails and scaling mountains for 15 days. Captain William A. Laffin and another Marauder officer took the lead in repairing the worst section of the road with 30 Chinese workers and 30 Kachin soldiers. At one point, a poisonous snake bit their guide whose foot swelled badly, and he became too sick to move. Without him the Marauders faced an almost impossible task of finding their way through a maze of paths. Laffin and other Marauder officers slashed the spot where the guide’s foot had been bitten and sucked the poison from the wound for two hours--until the Kachin was well enough to mount a horse and resume leading the column. Shortly after Captain William A Laffin was killed by Japanese Zeros as he was flying in an unarmed plane.
The 14 Nisei linguists survived the ordeal, but were debilitated by injuries, disease, and fatigue. They were awarded Combat Infantryman's Badges, a Legion of Merit and 14 Bronze Star medals and clusters and seven of the fourteen men were commissioned.
SOMEWHERE IN NORTHERN BURMA. May 23 (Delayed) (UP)
The lean, blond-bearded soldier swallowed a lump in his throat and muttered: "There’s Capt. Laffin’s grave.” He pointed to a fresh mound of earth topped by a crude bamboo cross on the edge of Myitkina airfield where they buried the man who led Merrill’s Marauders into this enemy base in the heart of the Burmese jungle. The Marauders had found his broken body near the airstrip on May 18, after a Japanese Zero machine-gunned the unarmed transport in which Laffin was riding to deliver a message to one of Brig. Gen. Merrill’s advance columns.
He was Captain William Laffin, age 42, of 11344 in Woodmount, Detroit, Merrill’s chief intelligence officer and the first American to reach Myitkyina airfields. My guide was PFC Hun Crawford. Louisville, KY, a headquarters scout who had been in and out of scores of tight spots with Laffin during the hectic three months it took the Marauders to march 750 miles through the jungles into the Japanese lines. “I am one of the last of the original headquarters scouts now that the Captain is gone,” Crawford told me. "But I know he died happy after the way he surprised the Japs at the airfield.”
INTERNED IN JAPAN
AT THE OUTBEAK OF
WAR, these officers who
returned on the exchange
ship GRIPSHOLM, had
much to talk about, pictured
are Lt. Paul Rusch,
Lt. Thomas Davis, Col.
Archibald Stuart ; the late
William Laffin, who was
killed in action with
Merrill’s Marauders, Max
Hill correspondent; Lt.
Gordon Thompson and Lt.
Colonel Karl Gold.
Captain William A Laffin was survived by his wife, Mrs. Janet Gertrude Laffin, of Detroit, Michigan,(deceased October 7, 1996) his mother Mrs. Miyo Ishii Laffin, of Yokohama, Japan, a Japanese National, and sister, Mildred of Yokohama.
The 1st burial site of Captain William A Laffin was at the American Military Cemetery at Myitkyina, Burma and later transferred to Kalaikunda, India. The families of Captain William Laffin at first had decided to bury his remains at Arlington National Cemetery but for the convenience of the families visiting the gravesite, it was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) Honolulu, HI. Section P, Grave 443. February 23, 1950.
Captain William A Laffin has been recently (March 7, 2003) nominated by the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in Fort Huachuca, AZ by Allen H. Meyer, a Chicago attorney, former member of the Military Intelligence Service, Chicago-Nisei Post No.1183.
Prepared for AJA WWII Memorial Alliance by Mits Kojimoto and Lisa Terao Blum
with excerpts from: HONOR BY FIRE- Lyn Crost (Secret Warriors in Burma – page 119 &130
Yankee Samurai – Joseph D Harrington MISLS and writer, Frank Hawlett
Seiki Oshiro- MIS/ US Army Burial Records
Fawn Isabelle Laffin – Mississauga Ontario Canada