A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 3

Jaro
Current Google map of Leyte battle area, inserted for ease of viewing and geographical orientation.

Battle Situation Overview

Even before my Uncle Suetaro and his 41st Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army landed in Ormoc at dawn on October 26, 1944, the US Sixth Army’s X Corps fought through four miles of beach between the Palo River and the Tacloban airstrip.  XXIV Corps further south also made significant progress, overcoming the Japanese resistance.  However, incredibly swampy terrain was more their enemy than the Japanese at times.

By the end of A-Day, the 1st Cavalry Division had secured the Tacloban airstrip.  Most critically, Lt. General Makino, commanding Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment and the 16th Division, was forced to evacuate his Command Headquarters in Dulag (below) to a village called Dagami.

dulag airfield leyte
The inevitable violence of war.  Dead Japanese soldiers lay next to a knocked out Type 95 Japanese tank at Dulag Airfield. Dulag was the location of Lt. General Makino’s headquarters. October 20, 1944. National Archives.

First: Irony

In closing Part 2 of this series, the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was mentioned.  During the war in the Pacific, nearly all MIS soldiers were Japanese-Americans.  Caucasians were primarily officers although a few NCOs were assigned.

Although Uncle Suetaro’s older siblings (my dad, Uncle Yutaka, Aunt Shiz and their families) remained imprisoned in the US concentration camps for people of Japanese blood until war’s end, my dad did volunteer for service in the US Army in February 1947.

After prodding, my dad told me and my cousin Neil (Yutaka’s son) he volunteered because by doing so, he’d get three chevrons on his sleeve; but, if they drafted him, he’d be a lowly buck private.  “More pay,” he told us.

The story I choose to believe, however, is that Uncle Yutaka –  then living in Chicago and now the leader of the entire family – implored or directed my dad to join up solely to check up on their mother and remaining sister, Michie, in Hiroshima.  Of course, the anguish of not knowing what happened to their youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – played a deep, silent role.  This is a belief that I have not shared with others.

Well, Dad got his chevrons and sergeant’s pay.  He became part of the famed MIS, post-hostilities.

c-10-94
Photo of Dad translating a document. Taken at US 8th Army HQs in Yokohama, Japan. April 1948.

________________________________________

11th ab
Five MIS Nisei pose with Colonel Rasmussen after receiving their jump wings. Do you think it odd to see Japanese-Americans in US Army paratrooper uniforms?  They were assigned to the famed 11th Airborne Division which eventually fought on Leyte and Luzon.  From Pg. 127 of Nisei Linguists.

As my Uncle Suetaro fought for Japan and his life on Leyte, the MIS was diligently doing their patriotic duty as US Army soldiers to end his life.  Dr. James C. McNaughton writes in his authoritative book, Nisei Linguists:

On 20 October the Nisei language teams went ashore with the assault elements of four divisions and two corps. Maj. George Aurell led the Sixth Army team.  His team sergeant, S.Sgt. Kazuo Kozaki, recalled: “We were kept busy all day and immediately. There were loads and loads of captured documents, although no prisoners were taken yet. I had to virtually wade through a pile of papers—operation orders, operation maps, manuals, magazines, books, paybooks, saving books, notebooks and diaries, handwritten or printed, official or private — to find out if there was any valuable information for our immediate use.”

Some Nisei saw direct combat. When the Japanese counterattacked the 7th Infantry Division, the Nisei “were a little bit heroic,” a Caucasian sergeant recalled. “They would climb on board a Japanese tank going by, knock on the
things, converse in Japanese, and as soon as the door popped open, they’d drop a hand grenade — boom!”

On 25 October two more Sixth Army language detachments arrived on board a landing ship, tank…”

One hundred and twenty Nisei’s and Kibei’s served on Leyte.¹

The unspoken irony for my father is here, hidden in this secret behind-the-scenes world.  If you note the highlighted print in this once top-secret US 8th Army report, it states, “Preliminary Interrogation ATIS Information Section.  Analysis made from 166 Det, 8 Army HQ”.

166thHere is the pertinent section of my dad’s discharge papers:

166th detHe served with the same G-2 166th Language Detachment that did their best to kill Japanese soldiers on Leyte – including Uncle Suetaro.  While the Nisei’s were on Leyte since the invasion began Oct. 20, 1944, they were reorganized into the 166th Language Detachment on 20 June 1945 per US Army records.

c-10-92
Picture of sign taken by my dad outside his office door in the US 8th Army HQ Building in Yokohama, Japan. Circa 1947.

I am darned sure he translated some documents captured on Leyte… where his favorite brother died.  How this must have plagued him for the rest of his life – to this very day.

____________________________________

catmon hill archives
The view from atop Catmon Hill after being taken by the US Army, October 1944. The Japanese observed the US invasion forces from this hilltop position as they landed and directed artillery fire. National Archives.

Back to the War on Leyte and Uncle Suetaro…

Per Mr. Ota’s book, The Eternal 41st, the composition of the 2,550 troops that disembarked at Ormoc was:

  • Regimental HQ staff
  • A rifle company (under Sasaki)
  • An artillery squadron (under Fukunishi)
  • A signals squadron (under Nakamura)
  • 1st Battalion (under Nishida)
  • 2nd Battalion (under Masaoka)
  • An attachment of combat engineers
  • A platoon of litter bearers from a medical regiment

However, their potential effectiveness had already been negated.  It was their fate.  Per his book, it appears the troops – including Uncle Suetaro – were forced to quickly ship out of Cagayan with but a day’s notice and with only what they could essentially carry on their backs or reasonably transport: ammunition, food, lighter artillery pieces like the 37mm anti-tank gun, etc.¹  This would be the proverbial nail in their coffin as the USN and USAAF would in short order obliterate their supply chain.

{His information above is corroborated by the information in the Reports of General MacArthur as follows:

Thirty-fifth Army took immediate action to move reinforcements to Leyte in accordance with the Suzu No. 2 Operation plan, which had already been activated on 19 October. Orders were issued during the 20th directing the following units to advance immediately to Leyte, where they were to come under 16th Division command:

1. 41st Infantry Regiment (less one battalion) of the 30th Division (Army reserve from Mindanao)

2. 169th Infantry Battalion of the I02d Division from the Visayas sector.

3. One infantry battalion of the 57th Independent Mixed Brigade, from Cebu.)}

USS Portland (CA-33)
Part of Leyte invasion fleet with US Army troops assaulting Leyte beach. You can see Uncle Suetaro never had a chance.  Taken from a USN reconnaissance plane from the USS Portland. National Archives.
battle_philippines archives
US soldiers on Leyte, October 20, 1944. National Archives

After landing in Ormoc at dawn, they became attached to the 16th Division under Lt. General Makino…but communication had been completely disrupted.  Makino’s HQ had been located in the coastal town of Dulag but it had been taken by the US 7th Infantry Division on the first day of the invasion.  Makino was in the process of moving his HQ ten miles inland to a town called Dagami five days before Uncle Suetaro landed.  Sadly, per the Reports of General MacArthur, orders had been issued by Japanese General Suzuki prior to their landing and were based on faulty intelligence:

Upon receipt of this dispatch, Lt. Gen. Suzuki and his staff began formulating a new operational plan covering the deployment of forces on Leyte. This plan, completed within the next few days, was essentially as follows ²:

1. Operational policy:

a. The Army will act immediately in cooperation with the decisive operations of the naval and air forces.

b. Reinforcements will be concentrated on the plain near Carigara.

c. Enemy troops which have landed near Tacloban and in the Dulag area will be destroyed.

d. The direction of the initial main effort will be against the enemy in the Dulag area.

e. The general attack will begin on or about 10 November.

2. Allocation of missions:

a. The 16th Div. will hold the Dulag area, Catmon Hill, and the heights west of Tacloban in order to cover the concentration of the main forces of the Thirty-fifth Army.

b. The following units, after landing at the ports indicated, will concentrate on the Carigara plain:

1st Div.-Carigara (Uncle Suetaro)

26th Div.-Carigara

102d Div. (Hq. and three battalions)-Ormoc

c. After the concentration of the Army’s main forces on the Carigara plain and adjacent areas to the southeast, operations will begin with the objective of destroying the enemy in the Dulag and then the Tacloban area.

Per Mr. Ota’s book, they slogged north to Carigara; they did make camp to rest one night in Kananga, a half-way point.  However, the US-supported guerrillas were constantly pestering the advancing Japanese force by destroying bridges and roads.  This wrecked havoc with vehicles and heavy rolling stock.  This obviously wore down artillery crews exacerbated by the rain, humidity, and limited food and medical supplies.  They still were unable to establish communication with Lt. General Makino; they were essentially going into combat pretty blind.

On or about October 28, 1944, the 41st Infantry Regiment moved from Carigara to the southeast section of Jaro.  They were to secure a bridge at a three fork highway junction.  {In corroboration, a US report states General Suzuki planned to have these troops move north along the Ormoc-Limon road (Highway 2) through Ormoc Valley, from which they were to diverge in three columns and capture the Carigara-Jaro road.³}  I believe this was the Mainit River bridge.

Unfortunately, they would soon clash violently with the US Army’s 34th Infantry, with dwindling provisions and weather combining into an insurmountable force against their staying alive.

To be continued in Part 4.

1. “Nisei” were the children of the first generation Japanese to immigrate legally to the US.  Being born here, they were American citizens.  A “Kibei” is a subset of Nisei; these Nisei children were rotated back to Japan for a period of time to learn the Japanese language with the understanding they would return to the US.  My dad is a Kibei.  KIbei’s were absolutely fluent in Japanese and formed the heart of the MIS.  In fact, some Kibei’s used to rib the Nisei “translators” because many spoke in a feminine way having learned it from their first generation mothers.
2. ULTRA intercepts reported the approach of this shipping, but MacArthur’s staff at first thought they indicated the beginning of an enemy evacuation. The necessary diversion of Third Fleet and Seventh Fleet aircraft for operations against surviving Japanese fleet units and the incomplete buildup of the U.S. Fifth Air Force on Leyte itself also weakened Allied reconnaissance and offensive capabilities in the immediate vicinity of the battle. Not until the first week in November did MacArthur’s staff realize that an enemy reinforcement was under way. Thereafter, American forces inflicted severe damage on local Japanese merchant shipping, sinking twenty-four transports bound for Leyte and another twenty-two elsewhere in the Philippines, as well as several warships and smaller vessels. By 11 December, however, the Japanese had succeeded in moving to Leyte more than 34,000 troops and over 10,000 tons of materiel, most of it through the port of Ormoc on the west coast. – Per Dai Sanjugo Gun Hatsuchaku Bunsho Utsushi (Document Files, Thirty-fifth Army headquarters) Oct-Dec 44, pp. 21-2, 25, cited in Reports of General MacArthur.
3. Leyte: Return to the Philippines, M. Hamlin Cannon. 1953

23 thoughts on “A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 3”

    1. Thank you, Pierre, for your interest and kindness. Yes, dad did not volunteer until Feb. 1947 but being a Kibei, his training was shortened to basic and learning military jargon. He translated during the war crimes trials but not for the “big” criminals.

  1. I see Pierre has beat me to re-blogging this, of course I will be doing it when my site gets to the Philippines. Great work here, Koji – I would expect no less from you. It must be so difficult for you to do the research, knowing that the success for one side of your family was the defeat of the other.

    1. Thanks, Curt, although I am unsure of what you are referring to by “ammo”. By all accounts, being on the receiving end of a barrage is beyond description. The fear can only be immense.

      1. Oops, my bad, sir. I wasn’t clear. I know what ammo is… I thought you were referring to a photo showing artillery firing but there isn’t one here. Can you tell me where you saw this photo? And my turn… Did you know when the Yamato fired, there would be different colored smoke to help them adjust aim? One color was… Pink!

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