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MARS Task Force (July 1944 - February 1945)1

After the fall of Myitkyina in Burma, the US prepared to renew its offensive against the Japanese in northern Burma. In the summer of 1944, the War Department sent two infantry regiments to the China-Burma-India Theater.

Kazuo "Kaz" Komoto, prior to becoming a member of the MARS Task Force, with his younger brother Susumu. Gila River incarceration camp. October 31, 1943. Courtesy of the War Relocation Authority.

The 475th Infantry, which absorbed the remaining Merrill's Marauder veterans, and the 124th Cavalry, a former National Guard unit from Texas, joined with the US-trained 1st Chinese Regiment (Separate) to form the 5332nd Brigade (Provisional)2. The combined units were named the MARS Task Force and were commanded by Brigadier General John P. Willey. The two US regiments each had a team of a dozen Nisei language specialists. The 475th Nisei were led by Technical Sergeant Kazuo Komoto and the Nisei of the 124th Calvary were led by Technical Sergeant Kan Tagami.3

The mission of the MARS Task Force, similar to that of the Merrill's Marauders, was to operate around and behind enemy lines, cut off supplies and reinforcements, and clear the Burma Road.

Staff Sergeant Toma Tasaki later recalled the experiences of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Nisei assigned to the 475th: "We climbed mountain trails in Northern Burma, shouldered packs and weapons and dictionaries, and received our supplies from airdrops. We dug slit trenches and foxholes–fought a little, too–and helped open the Burma Road."4

Toma Tasaki (left) and Hisao Mikuni (right) interrogate a wounded Japanese soldier. Burma. 1945. Courtesy of the United States Army Signal Corps.

Technician Third Grade Yutaka Nakahata described the experiences of the MIS Nisei assigned to the 124th: "We slogged through mud, scaled 7,000-foot peaks, skidded down steep mountainsides rendered slick by monsoon rains, and hacked our way through dense jungles. Along the way, we fought several skirmishes. Then we engaged the enemy in a climactic battle at Namh-pakka [sic], located right smack on the Burma Road."5

The MIS soldiers served both as interpreters and riflemen. However, one of their most important tasks was to eavesdrop on Japanese soldiers. Linguists were responsible for obtaining information from Japanese soldiers who conversed around the defense perimeter. They gathered intelligence on ammunition dumps, enemy positions and movements.

The MARS Task Force served in the CBI Theater until February 1945. They disbanded in July 1945.6 Like the Marauders, they suffered heavy losses in combat.

MIS soldiers who participated in the MARS Task Force included:7

  • Toshio William Abe
  • James Araki
  • Herbert Hamaguchi
  • George Harada
  • Takeshi Angel Hirano
  • Patrick Kaneshiro
  • Jewetts Kariya
  • Kazuo "Kaz" Komoto
  • Hisao Mikuni
  • Paul Miwa
  • Arthur Morimitsu
  • Gilbert Nagata
  • Yutaka Nakahata
  • Hiroshi Nakamura
  • James Okita
  • Benji Shiroyama
  • Kan Tagami
  • Toma Tasaki
  • Frank Tokubo
  • Sadao Toyama
  • Tom Tsutsumi Tsunoda
  • Tom Tsuruda
  • Tokio Tony Uemoto
  • Toshio Uesato

MIS linguists served in Chungking, China, under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek in July 1944. Five MIS Nisei participated in an American mission to Yenan, which operated as Mao Tse Tung's headquarters. The servicemen nicknamed this mission the "Dixie Mission," because it was in "rebel" territory. The MIS interrogated Japanese POWs to extract intelligence information on the Japanese units, wrote propaganda leaflets distributed among the prisoners, and intercepted communications. The MIS linguists worked diligently day and night to gather vital information.

The MARS Task Force ascends the winding Burma Road. January 1945. Courtesy of the United States Department of Defense.
The MARS Task Force. January 15, 1945. Courtesy of the United States Department of Defense.

Footnotes

1Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 134.

2George L. MacGarrigle, "Central Burma: The US Army Campaigns of World War II," US Army Center of Military History, p. 7, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/centburma/centburma.htm.

3James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), p. 291.

4Toma Tasaki, "Mars Task Force," Secret Valor: MIS Personnel World War II Pacific Theater (Honolulu, HI: Military Intelligence Service Veterans, 1993), p. 70.

5Yutaka Nakahata, "Mars Task Force, Burma Campaign," Secret Valor: MIS Personnel World War II Pacific Theater (Honolulu, HI: Military Intelligence Service Veterans, 1993), p. 71.

6David W. Hogan, Raiders or Elite Infantry? The Changing Role of the U.S. Army Rangers.

7This list of names has been compiled to the best of our ability, but it still may be incomplete. List of names compiled from Tasaki, p. 70; Nakahata, p. 71; and Tad Ichinokuchi, John Aiso and the MIS: Japanese American Soldiers in the Military Intelligence Service, World War II (Los Angeles, CA: The Military Intelligence Service Club of Southern California, 1988), p. 212; Joseph D. Harrington, Yankee Samurai: The Secret Role of Nisei in America's Pacific Victory (Detroit, MI: Pettigrew Enterprises, 1979), pp. 242, 293; and Japanese American Citizens League, Twin Cities Chapter Education Committee, Minnesota's Remarkable Secret School of Language: Curriculum and Resource Guide (MN: Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League, 2013), pp. 27-28, accessed on January 18, 2015, http://www.tcjacl.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/MISGuide2013.pdf.

ORAL HISTORY CLIPS

1004 Toshi Uesato
Starts on Tape Two, between 54 and 56 minute marks

TOSHI UESATO:
To backtrack, the mission of the Merrill's Marauders was to reopen the Burma Road. It was headed by General Merrill, and that's the reason why it's called Merrill's Marauders. They started out in Ledo, where the Ledo Road was being constructed by American engineers, headed by General Pike [Lewis A. Pick]. So they started in the spring of 1944. The Merrill's Marauders fought the Japanese army, and pushed them back. And then finally they captured the vital military base of Myitkyina. And this is where the Japanese had the airfield. And they secured Myitkyina in August of 1944. But by then, the Marauders, which started out with about 2,900, they were severely depleted because of battle---battlefield injuries. They had deaths, disease, simple---simply exhaustion. So the outfit was disbanded, and we---the new outfit called the MARS Task Force was organized. And I was part of the MARS Task Force. The MARS Task Force consisted of two American regiments: the 475th Infantry Regiment, and the 124th Cavalry Regiment, and a third Chinese regiment. We took over some of the healthy soldiers from the Merrill's task force, and we trained in Myitkyina for several months. And we shipped out in November---in the middle of November, 1944, to complete the mission that the Merrill's Marauders had commenced. Like I said, the Marauders captured Myitkyina and disbanded. And the Ledo Road could not go on further, because there was Japanese armed forces in front of them. We, the MARS Task Force, had to push back the Japanese armed forces in order that---for the mili---for the Ledo Road to be completed, and link up with the old Burma Road.

078 Kan Tagami
Starts on Tape Three, between 12 and 14 minute marks

KAN TAGAMI:
And the regiment that I was assigned to was at 124th Cavalry dismounted. I mean, they don't have horses, they had mules. That's what dismounted means, they don't - no more horses. Anyway, we trained in Ramgarh, India. And then we went down to Brammah to reach out toward Burma on the riverboat. And I went to an airfield near the border and we flew in from there to Myitkyina where they had a big battle there with Japanese. But by the time we came there, it was captured and that became our starting point, Myitkyina. It was in North Burma. I was with 124th. There was the 475th Regiment also. It was assigned to, called MARS Task Force. MARS Task Force started from Myitkyina. Their mission was to penetrate Japanese line and hit the rear so they would retreat. And that's what exactly what happened, we hit them in the rear, they retreated. And we go around, back again, and hit them again. And we finally got to Lashio, think that's what it Lashio, the starting point of Burma Road to China. And we opened the road with one big battle over there - what the Japanese called Chrysanthemum Unit and Wolf Unit, the two divisions really. We chase them all the way down to Lashio and they retreated further toward Thailand. And that was our accomplishment, you know. That's what we're supposed to do and we did.


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