Wounded in Solomon Islands, Decorated MIS Nisei also Served in US Special Forces Brigade to Open Burma Road
Myitkyina, Burma. Japanese Americans were prohibited from serving in the Asia Pacific Theater during WW II because they were viewed as disloyal. This prohibition was waived for some 3,000 Nisei linguists, who were desperately needed to serve in a large translation unit in Australia and in small numbers with Army, Marine, Navy and Army Air Corps on the war front and at division headquarters overseas and at stateside locations. Nisei, carrying guns and translators’ paraphernalia, accompanied every infantry and marine invading campaign. Their duty was to translate captured documents and to interrogate prisoners and pass intelligence information to commanders real time to prepare counterattack strategies to win battles and save American lives. Their individual awards of Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star for Valor and Air medal are evidence of their front line work. No Nisei was withdrawn or court martialed for supporting the enemy, a testimony of their loyalty.
This is a story of T/Sgt Kazuo Komoto of Sanger, Fresno County California, who was wounded by a Japanese sniper bullet in New Georgia, Solomon Islands. After his recovery he volunteered for the MARS Task Force, a US Special Forces brigade that opened the Burma Road to haul war materiel from Burma to China. Komoto was awarded the Purple Heart Medal in the Solomon Islands, the first MIS member to receive this Medal, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his duty in Burma and the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service.
When Komoto was 9 years old his mother took him and his two other siblings to Okayama Prefecture, Japan. In 1937, following graduation from high school, Komoto began the enrollment process to enter a university, however, with war clouds looming in Japan, he decided instead to return to America, where he worked on the family farm. He was drafted into the US Army in 1941 and, after war began, volunteered to serve in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). He graduated from the MIS Language School at Camp Savage, MN in June 1942. Selected as the team leader for a 10 Nisei language team, they were shipped to Fiji Islands, a way stop to Solomon Islands, a former British Protectorate. With Guadalcanal, also in Solomon Islands, being in the mopping-up stage the new scene of combat was New Georgia.
While on a mission in New Georgia in June 1943, Komoto was shot by a Japanese sniper which tore up his knee. He was placed on a hospital ship where he was awarded the Purple Heart Medal. In mid August 1943 Komoto was transferred to a stateside hospital, where he met Eleanor Roosevelt, who was visiting wounded soldiers. Komoto told Mrs. Roosevelt about his family in an internment camp.
In Fall 1943, prior to his next assignment, Komoto was given a 30-day leave, which he spent with his family at Gila River, Arizona, Internment Camp. Komoto was pleased to read a warm letter his mother had received from the undersecretary of war pertaining to his wound. After his leave, Komoto reported for duty at Presidio of Monterey where he was told his next assignment would be the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Viewing that as an MIS tech sergeant he could not fit in an infantry unit, Komoto arranged for an assignment with the MIS Language School in Camp Savage, MN. Major John Aiso, head instructor, assigned Komoto as an instructor. After a period of teaching, Komoto obtained a transfer to the Southeast Asia Translation and interrogation Center (SEATIC), located in New Delhi, India. From there, Komoto applied for and was approved to serve as leader of the 12-man MIS team for the 475th Infantry Regiment of the 5332nd Brigade (Provisional), nicknamed the MARS Task Force.
The MARS Task Force succeeded the Merrill’s Marauders, which had disbanded after the August 3, 1944 capture of Myitkyina with the support of Chinese Nationalist, and Kachin (Burmese) scouts. The capture of Myitkyina was important because it was on the Burma Road and had an all weather airport from which Japanese fighter planes interdicted American planes flying over the hump to transport goods to China.
The MARS Task Force forced the Japanese troops to retreat south of Lashio, Burma, the starting terminal of the Burma Road thus clearing the Burma Road to transport war materiel unimpeded from Lashio to Kunming, China, a distance of 720 miles. The Burma Road was built in 1937 after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. The soldiers of Merrill’s Marauders and the MARS Task Force have the distinction of being the first American soldiers to fight on the Asian continent since the Boxer Rebellion in 1899.
Its mission accomplished, the MARS Task Force disbanded in July 1945 and Komoto returned to SEATIC . He was recommended for field commission in July 1945 and also for a MIS position in China. The war ended on September 2, 1945. Having accumulated enough points for an honorable discharge, Komoto chose that option.After his discharge, Komoto got married to Rose Kimoto, also of Sanger, owned and operated the Mid Valley Nursery, worked for Franklin Life Insurance Company, and became a real estate broker. He has a son, Jeffrey, and daughter, Tina. Five of the Komoto brothers served in the US Army and the sixth, who remained in Japan, had no military duty. Komoto died in Sanger on December 3, 2018, soon after his 100th birthday. JAVA Research Team
Kazuo Komoto, taken during his later years.
Kazuo Komoto showing his Purple Heart Medal to younger brother Susumu during his visit to Gila River, AZ, internment camp, where his family was interned. Komoto was on leave following hospitalization from wound sustained in combat. Photo courtesy of War Relocation Authority.