Dick Shigemi Hamada of Honolulu died May 27. He was 92 years old.
Hamada was born in Kukuihaele on Hawai‘i island and was a retired planner and estimator supervisor at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as well as a widely known baseball and softball umpire. Few people who knew him later in life were aware of the perilous, heroic service he rendered to America as a young man in World War II.
A funeral service was held for Hamada on June 22, at Hosoi Garden Mortuary. One of the speakers was retired Maj. Gen. Arthur Ishimoto, a World War II veteran of the Military Intelligence Service. Ishimoto, now 91, achieved the highest military rank of any of the Japanese Americans who served in World War II, retiring as the state of Hawai‘i’s adjutant general in 1983.
Ishimoto served in the Philippines during the war and, subsequently, in occupied Japan. He and Hamada met only last year, when both were on a panel discussing the World War II contributions of the Military Intelligence Service at the Bishop Museum — part of the tour of the Congressional Gold Medal that was awarded to the Nisei veterans in 2011.
Here is Gen. Ishimoto’s farewell to Dick Hamada.
I need to tell you a story of a soldier — a very, very special one.
In March 1943, Dick Hamada volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He received his basic infantry training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
In July 1943, Dr. Daniel Buchanan from the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of today’s Central Intelligence Agency) in Washington, D.C., went to Camp Shelby to recruit Niseis who could read, write and speak the Japanese language. Professor Buchanan had taught many years in Japan and was fluent in that language.
He announced to all that the mission was extremely dangerous and warned that it would be a one-way ticket, meaning: Do not expect to return alive.
Despite those warnings, 150 volunteered. He conducted extensive interviews of each applicant and finally chose 19. Dick Hamada was one of them. Those chosen left Camp Shelby under a veil of secrecy for another camp.
Their training was similar to the training today’s special forces receive, like the Navy Seals. But much more. They were trained in Morse code and went through intensive physical and mental training. They learned to live off the land, killing wild goats, cooking and eating them. Taught to use various kinds of explosives. Trained in hand-to-hand combat and defense against various kinds of hand weapons.
They attended the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, to improve their ability to read and understand the Japanese language and learned to read Japanese military maps and symbols.
Their training was demanding. The group was finally weeded down to 10 enlisted men and four officers.
In October 1944, they left the U.S. and arrived in Myitkychina, Burma. Then to Taro, Burma, and learned cryptography and the Burmese language. Upon completion, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, Detachment 101 of the OSS, a clandestine unit operating behind enemy lines.
The unit was mainly composed of Kachin warriors (a fierce hill tribe) of Burma. He fought and lived with the guerrillas. Together they destroyed bridges, railroad tracks, ambushed the enemy, planted punji stakes (sharpened bamboo or wood sticks sometimes coated with infectious matter).
He had to endure the miseries and sufferings of jungle warfare, such as blood-sucking leeches, thousands of flies, mosquitoes, unclean water and jungle rot. He became ill with dysentery and malaria. At night, they not only were threatened by the enemy, but by man-eating tigers. To avoid the pitfalls of unbearable torture and decapitation by the Kempei Tai, the Japanese secret police, Dick was warned to save one bullet for himself in the event of capture.
In April 1945, Dick was assigned as platoon leader of Chinese troops. His platoon had 51 men. The average battalion strength was around 800.
His battalion was ordered to capture a strategic village called Ke Hsi Mansam. When they attacked the village, they were met with fierce resistance from the Japanese. During the ensuing battle, casualties mounted and the Kachins began to panic and falter. They began to desert.
On the third night, the Japanese attacked the left flank in full force, which was guarded only by Dick and his Chinese soldiers. During the battle, Dick noticed the sound of their machine guns became fainter and fainter. He realized that his troops were faltering and were ready to retreat. The urgency of the situation prompted him to take immediate action. He crawled out of the safety of his foxhole and went to each foxhole, urging, pressing and leaning on his troops to keep fighting. He went from foxhole to foxhole. Not only did he face danger from the enemy fire, but also danger from being shot by his own troops because he looked like the enemy.
His courageous, strong and astute leadership turned the tide of the battle to his advantage. The enemy withdrew. They captured Ke Hsi Mansam.
What is amazing is that the Chinese did not understand a word of English. So, how did Dick command and control them? They understood some Japanese. Dick was able to communicate with them in simple Japanese. He said he used words like tatakai — fight; utte, utte, utte — shoot, shoot, shoot; gambare — don’t give up, hang in there. They understood. Simple, limited words, but very effective and won the battle.
I read his commanding officer’s handwritten citation and the typewritten citation for the award of the Bronze Star Medal. It is documented proof. There was one phrase that caught my attention. Captain Daniel Barnwell, his commanding officer, wrote, and I quote: “Sgt. Hamada saved the entire battalion from total defeat.”
Those words hit me. He saved a whole battalion from being annihilated. Astounding. Amazing.
There was another heroic act by Dick. When the war ended on August 15, 1945, the very next day, Detachment 101, OSS, sent 10 teams to 10 separate prisoner of war camps in China to rescue Allied prisoners. It was called “Operation Mercy Mission” and was labeled “Top Secret.” They were told that the Japanese might execute the POWs. Dick was assigned to Operation Magpie. He and his seven-man team parachuted into Peking, currently called Beijing. They were met with opposition and were fired upon by the enemy because the lower-ranking soldiers were not told the war was over. They resisted.
Finally, they contacted a General Takahashi, the area commander. Through him, they were able to negotiate and retrieve four Doolittle Raiders and 600 other prisoners.
For that, Dick was awarded the Soldier’s Medal and a special award called the Breast Order of Yun Hui from the president of the National Government, Republic of China, the famous Chiang Kai-shek. Dick’s name is mentioned in several books — one by Joanna Doolittle Hoppes, the granddaughter of the Doolittle Raiders leader, General Jimmy Doolittle.
When I read of his heroic actions, I decided to nominate Dick to be inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame. I prepared a memorandum with the necessary documents to support it. I also tried to upgrade his medal, but was told that I needed an eyewitness and an affidavit. I abandoned that effort for the moment because his only eyewitness was his commanding officer, and he passed away.
I sent copies of my memo to Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. They are both members of the House Armed Services Committee. When their aides read the memo, they were impressed with Dick’s performance. As a result, both congresswomen sent a letter of endorsement to the historian of the Military Intelligence Corps, strongly supporting Hamada. I also asked them to help me submit an upgrade of his medal to the Medal of Honor. It is known as the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest decoration that can be given for heroism in combat to a Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman or Coast Guardsman by the U.S.
Representatives Hanabusa and Gabbard supported me for the upgrade and sent me a long Army form to fill out, but I did not have the wherewithal to get all the supporting documents. They helped me and got them and filled out the long form for me. It was hand-carried to me. They packaged the entire recommendation. I signed it and it was forwarded in April. It is a three-step review and would take about a year. If Dick does not get the Medal of Honor, I am certain that he will receive some sort of upgrade, perhaps the Distinguished Service Cross, the next highest.
The Hall of Fame award will be reviewed in August. I am fairly certain that he will be inducted. I have read the citations of others already inducted, and no one — no one — came to the level that Dick attained.
I have read the citations of many Medal of Honor recipients, but none saved an entire battalion. It is unheard of. It is for that reason that I recommended him for the Medal of Honor.
But, sadly, for 69 years, he had not been adequately recognized. He only received the Bronze Star Medal without the “V” device, indicating valor — so it is only a service medal.
I would like to acknowledge the presence of Shea Baker, the aide to Congresswoman Hanabusa. He is here representing her. He and John Towles of Congresswoman Gabbard’s office assisted me in processing the medal upgrade. Without their help, it would have been a dead end.
I was told that Congresswoman Gabbard, a captain in the reserves, will make a short speech in the House of Representatives to honor Dick Hamada next week (week of June 23 to 27). He will be in the 113th Congressional Record and will be forever etched in history.
I thank you, Shea and John, and both congresswomen for your support. I would like to also thank Mark Matsunaga, an MIS son and former city editor of The Honolulu Advertiser, who assisted me in writing the memorandum. Thank you, Mark, for your help. I am overjoyed with our congressional support. It is way beyond my expectation.
Dick was a member of the Military Intelligence Service and was assigned to the OSS. When discharged from the service, he signed an oath not to divulge any information of his wartime activities, like we all did in the MIS. Our lips were sealed for 27 long years until the Freedom of Information Act was passed. Dick told me he was ridiculed and laughed at when he mentioned that he was in the MIS because the MIS was only known as interpreters by the public and he was forbidden to say anything. He agonized over it and it hurt him.
There is a reason the public was ignorant of the MIS. It is because the MIS was classified as a secret organization. For your information, the members of the MIS participated in every major campaign in the Pacific, including China/Burma. Some were used as spies, like my classmate.
We have lost a great soldier. I feel deeply in my heart that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I pray and hope that the review of his upgrade will be successful. If so, he will finally be recognized after 69 long years. He should be enshrined in a hall of heroes. Going to his final resting place without a single medal for valor is a great injustice and shameful. We intend to fix that.
Dick is a Nisei, and the Niseis of World War II spilled a lot of blood for the benefit of the generations to follow.
You now know of Dick Hamada, the soldier. I am proud of him and so should you be, especially you grandchildren. He is now with the Almighty. No suffering and no pain. Aloha and sayonara, Dick. In tribute, I will say to you in meaningful Japanese, Seiko shimashita (You succeeded). I know you are here in spirit. I salute you. Peace and blessings.