Written by Phil Cerroni
By Amanda Casanova
It might not be a story told in Hollywood’s World War II movies, but the efforts of Detachment 101 in Burma during World War II were important, as attendees learned at a panel discussion on Oct. 19 at the Residence Inn in Irving.
Formed during World War II, Detachment 101 was a force of a few hundred Americans who joined forces with the anti-Japanese Kachin people. The unit was the first of its kind and charged with gathering intelligence, rescuing airmen, identifying targets to bomb and other missions.
“We didn’t know where we were going when we left,” Allen Richter, a Detachment 101 veteran said at the “Our Hearts Never Left” discussion. “We didn’t know what we were going to do or how we were going to do it. It was playing by ear and somehow it all came together.”
Detachment 101 was created in 1942 by the Office of Strategic Services, an intelligence agency and predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency. During the detachment’s stay in Burma, the Americans helped train the Kachin how to fight and the Kachin people taught the Americans how to survive in the foreign environment.
“I’d never heard of Burma before,” said Sam Spector, a Detachment 101 veteran. “I didn’t even know where it was, but it was all exciting. It was a very unique experience for me, and I owe a lot to that experience and working with the Kachin.”
Joined with the Kachin people, Detachment 101 performed a variety of “unconventional” missions, including demolishing 57 bridges, derailing nine trains and capturing 272 enemy vehicles. In all, they destroyed about 15,000 tons of Japanese’ supplies.
“The reason they were so successful was because they had no rules and no one to telling them what to do,” said Dr. Troy Sacquety, a historian who documented the detachment’s efforts.
In 1946, the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation as awarded to Detachment 101 for their work. With the award, then Chief of Staff Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "The courage and fighting spirit displayed by its officers and men in offensive action against overwhelming enemy strength reflect the highest tradition of the armed forces of the United States.”
The efforts didn’t stop then. In the 1990s, Detachment 101 veterans began providing humanitarian services and programs to the Kachins. Project Old Soldier is a farm substitution program that swaps opium crops for sustainable food, and 101 Schools is an English and math education program for children.
“We know that the Kachin still speak of our wartime accomplishment and the bond of brotherhood,” Spector said. “We started these programs to show that we haven’t forgotten them.”