With Merrill's Marauders in Burma -- Roy H. Matsumoto

My career as a Merrill's Marauders Ranger began when I, together with many other young Japanese Americans-including other future Marauders-volunteered from relocation centers where we had been interned. When the call came for service in the United States military in the fall of 1942, I volunteered from the "concentration" camp in Jerome, Arkansas, and was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to receive infantry basic training along with recruits targeted for the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. But I'd been sent to Japan when I reached junior high school age to live my with maternal grandparents and had spent three years as a "chugakko" (middle school) student. So the Army selected me for additional training at the Military Intelligence Service Language School, Camp Savage, Minnesota.

Upon graduation, six other Japanese American mainlanders and I volunteered together with seven Nisei soldiers from Hawaii to join the 5307th Composite Unit, Provisional -- a regimental sized group trained in guerrilla tactics known popularly as "Merrill's Marauders", taking its name from its commander; Brig. Gen. Frank Dow Merrill. The fourteen Japanese American future "Marauders" sailed on the SS Lurline from Fort Mason, California, to Bombay, India.

In 1942, the Japanese 18th Division occupied almost all of Northern Burma. The mission of Merrill's Marauders was to reopen the Burma Road, the overland lifeline linking India and China through Burma.

I was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of Merrill's Marauders in the Northern Burma campaign. Setting out from Ledo, Assam, in northeastern India, in February 1944, the Marauders marched southward on foot through Burmese jungles and river crossings in the Hukawng and Mogaung valleys covering several hundred miles to capture the key city of Myitkyina in August. We had many encounters with the Japanese during this march, but I want to talk about only two: the Walawbum road block and the siege at Nhpum Ga.

The Walawbum Road Block

The headquarters of the Japanese 18th Division was in Kamaing in the Moguang valley but the majority of the 7,000 troops were scattered northward into the Hukawng valley from Maingkwan. As we came out of the jungle and reached the Kamaing road, we discovered the 18th Division's telephone lines running from headquarters to the front along the road. I climbed a tree and tapped into the line, and while eavesdropping learned about the location of an enemy ammunition dump susceptible to attack. Our company commander contacted our air support and air attacks destroyed the dump. I was up on the tree most of the time from morning to evening, and I did not even have time to dig my own foxhole. But I was able to obtain much valuable intelligence, especially orders regarding enemy troop movements revealing superior enemy forces attempting to break the Walawbum road block on the Kamaing road. We were therefore able to avoid and bypass these forces while continuing our advance without loss.

The Siege at Nhpum Ga.

About a month later; when we encountered superior enemy forces in the Hukawng valley, we were ordered to move up to a hilltop hamlet called Nhpum Ga. The enemy surrounded us and the siege of Nhpum Ga began. One night, crawling over our lines and through our perimeter, I infiltrated behind enemy lines in an attempt to pick up intelligence and overheard enemy plans to attack Lt. Edward McLogan's area at dawn. I returned and reported what I had overheard to our commanding officer who ordered the relocation of our positions further up the hill and the booby trapping of our empty foxholes.

As expected, the enemy made an all out assault up the hill at dawn. We held our fire until the enemy charged into the line of foxholes. We then opened with some fifty automatic weapons -- heavy and light machine guns, BARs, Thompson sub-machine guns, and M4 rifles-as well as carbines and hand grenades. The second wave of the enemy troops hesitated in confusion. At that moment, I stood up and gave the order to attack in Japanese. The troops obeyed my order and they were mowed down. And so we were able to break the siege, defeat an enemy superior in numbers, and survive until the 1st and 3rd Battalions joined us. Therefore, I was able to contribute to saving the 2nd Battalion twice. As a result, we were able to march down to Myitkyina air strip and capture it. By doing so, we attained our final objective of providing a link to a reopened Burma Road.

Mission accomplished.

[Courtesy of the Japanese American Veterans' Association, MIS in the War Against Japan, Personal Experiences Related at the 1993 MIS Capital Reunion, "The Nisei Veteran:  An American Patriot", Edited by Stanley L. Falk and Warren Tsuneishi, 1995.]