by Renita Foster
in The Monmouth Message, (Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, December
published in The Monmouth Message, (Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, December 8, 2006.)
Sgt. Tad Nagaki didn’t notice the
cumbersome parachute and combat equipment strapped to his body as he struggled
to climb aboard the B-24 Liberator Bomber in Kunming,
Reports had reached American headquarters in
Determined to make one last difference as World
War II came to an end, especially since so many lives were at stake, Nagaki
immediately volunteered for the mission. As the “Armored Angel” droned toward
Weihsien Concentration Camp in the
Almost four years earlier on Dec. 7, 1941,
Nagaki was having a grand time visiting
“I never heard an announcement of any kind that
day about the bombing,” said Nagaki. “I was in
Although Nagaki was the only Nisei (second generation Japanese American) in his unit, he never noticed any different treatment until his outfit deployed without him.
Instead, Nagaki was transferred to
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Nagaki. “There’s a war going on and other ‘Americans’ are allowed to go and fight. But I’m stuck cleaning up an Army post! Is that any way to treat a devoted American Soldier when his country’s threatened?”
Then one morning as he prepared for daily details, Nagaki saw an announcement posted on the camp bulletin board. It was a request for volunteers for a special Nisei warfare unit. After two long, unsuccessful years of “begging” for combat duty, Nagaki grabbed the opportunity to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT).
During infantry training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) petitioned for Nisei volunteers in intelligence work described as “more hazardous than combat” and “a one-way ticket.” As someone who lived for adventure and action, Nagaki was a natural.
Fourteen out of 23 were selected for an elite
team of Nisei in
After expert training in parachuting, radio
operations, infiltration, survival, hand-to-hand combat, cryptography and
guerrilla tactics, Nagaki’s unit jumped into Northern Burma in January 1943.
They were the first espionage unit sent behind enemy lines throughout
“We Niseis had bonded together for the sole purpose of proving our patriotism. And the significant strength in the brotherhood we felt was our secret weapon,” said Nagaki. “And we all knew how much more dangerous the duties were for us if captured by the Japanese.”
While living in straw huts and adjusting to insects and K-rations, Nagaki accumulated valuable tactical experiences like sabotage and hit and run harassment operations. He also translated enemy documents and prepared propaganda literature.
Additionally, Nagaki trained two platoons of Kachin and Shan tribesmen in north and central
“I volunteered to go behind the Japanese forces
while stationed in
Nagaki began the journey to Weihsien
Concentration Camp on August 17, 1945. Located in the
The B-24 flew as close to the trees as possible to ensure the jump was a short one, just 400 feet in fact. The maneuver deprived the Japanese guards space and time to fire at the rescuers.
Nagaki was astonished at the sight below as the bomber circled the area. The prisoners, many of which were children, were running wildly toward the gates as they realized freedom was just moments away. Thunderous cheering and shouting, even dancing greeted the rescuers as the floated towards the earth. The team had barely touched the ground when they were mobbed by the exhilarated POWs and brought back to the camp. Although the guards had initially pointed weapons at the prisoners, they now retreated to their barracks.
“They knew the war was over,” said Nagaki. “We contacted the Commandant and there was a quick, peaceful surrender.”
A parade of worshipers followed the American Soldiers everywhere, begging for souvenirs like buttons, insignia and pieces of parachute. One little girl cut off hair from Nagaki’s head while another woman insisted he autograph her baby’s bonnet. The Americans delighted the POWs in return with treats of Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum and chocolate.
The children added to the celebration by relentlessly singing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and Maresey Doats and Doesey Doats and Little Lambsey Divey.’ After learning American songs from their rescuers, the children continually sang those as well.
Among the prisoners was Mary Previte, a future
Assemblywoman in the
“I was very surprised and also very delighted the first time Mary contacted me,” said Nagaki. “She had tried contacting other members of the rescue team and only found widows. I was the first one she found alive so she was very emotional as well. One of the questions she asked me was how I felt about being followed by children every where that day and I told her like being on a pedestal. I still remembered the event quite well, right down to the little girl cutting off some of my hair for a souvenir.”
Previte still calls Nagaki every holiday, including this last Thanksgiving. She also sends him a birthday card every year.
More than 20,000 Allied POWs were liberated
from Manchuria to Indo-China by the
(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth story in a series featuring the Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) during World War II.
to Story No.1 ---
to Story No.1 ---
Freed from one camp, he helps liberate another
Link to Story No.3 --- March to freedom filled with danger
Link to Story No.4 --- Veteran “went for broke” to serve country
Link to Story No.5 --- ‘Merrill’s Marauders,’ Nisei helped shorten World War II
to Story No.6 ---
---Soldier becomes ‘Armored Angel’, freeing prisoners
Link to Story No.7 --- Hiroshima 1945: Japanese-American officer finds old home an atomic wasteland
Nisei MIS attached to
Caption: Sgt. Tad Nagaki (left), interpreter, and T/4 Raymond N. Hanchulak, medic, are awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism for helping to liberate 1,400 allied prisoners from the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Center in China’s Shantung Province, August 1945. Photo courtesy Mary T. Previte.