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William Alfred Laffin
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Name: William Alfred Laffin Rank: Captain (Intelligence Officer) Service Number: 0-923419 Service: Headquarters Detachment, 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) / Merrill’s Marauders, US Army Awards: Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, Purple Heart Date of Birth: November 10, 1902 Place of Birth: Yokohama, Japan Date of Enlistment: 1942 Place of Enlistment: Michigan Address at Enlistment: Michigan Next of Kin: Janet Gertrude (Eldridge) Laffin (Wife) Date of Death: May 18, 1944 Age: 41 Cemetery: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii Grave: Section P, Grave 443 William Alfred Laffin was born November 10, 1902, in Yokohama, Japan, the son of Thomas Melvin Laffin (1862-1931) and Miyo (Ishii) Laffin. His father was born in the Tennycape, Hants Co., Nova Scotia. His mother was born in Japan. His six siblings were Ishii Mary Laffin (1888–1978), John Edward Laffin (1890–1971), Thomas Melvin Laffin Jr. (1893–1985), Eleanor Laffin (1897–1944), Myrtle Laffin (b. 1899), and Mildred Minnie Laffin (1906–1996). William’s father, Thomas M Laffin, moved to Maine where he acquired American citizenship. Thomas was a seaman on an American vessel that put into Yokohama Harbor for extensive repairs. While there he met and married Miyo Ishii of Yumoto, Japan. Thomas remained in Japan with his wife Miyo. They had seven children. Thomas Laffin, was honored for heroic achievement in the Yokohama fire of 1923. According to his 1922 passport William Laffin was working for the American/British firm known as Sale & Frazar. William attended various schools in the United States. He later worked many years for the Ford Motor Company of Yokohama. William Laffin met his wife, Janet Gertrude Eldridge (1915-1996) during one of his visits to the Ford Motor Car Co. in Michigan. William and his siblings struggled during the war. Although their mother was Japanese and the children were born in Japan, they were considered as enemy alien by the Japanese. When the Japanese raided Pearl Harbor, William Laffin was operating a business in Yokohama where he had lived for years and he was promptly arrested and interned. William Laffin and his brother Thomas, although their mother was Japanese, were considered American enemy aliens. They were allowed to board the last exchange ship Asama Maru leaving Yokohama, Japan on June 25, 1942, and transferred to the Swedish liner Gripsholm in Mozambique on July 22, 1942 arriving in New York on August 25, 1942. Following his return to the United States, William Laffin proceeded to the Ford Motor Company headquarters only to be informed of his termination. On March 11, 1943, William Laffin applied for his first social security card. William Laffin joined the United States Army from Michigan and since he spoke and read Japanese, he was sent to the Japanese Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota in 1942 and graduated in July 1943. He was commissioned in the rank of Captain and ordered to Burma as Officer in charge of the 14 Nisei Language team assigned to the Headquarters of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), codename Unit Galahad, under Brigadier General Frank Merrill. Captain William Laffin became the unit Intelligence Officer (S-2) for Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill’s Marauders, whose objective was to conquer northern Burma and the all-weather Myitkyina airfield from the Japanese. Laffin, with Americans and Kachin native scouts conducted intelligence operations in the field. During one mission, he led scouts over a seldom-used trail to Myitkyina airfield. The Marauders faced a killing task of climbing, sometimes crawling on hands and knees, over steep slippery trails and scaling mountains for fifteen days. Captain Laffin and another Marauder officer took the lead in repairing the worst section of the road with 30 Chinese workers and 30 Kachin soldiers. At one point, a poisonous snake bit their guide whose foot swelled badly, and he became too sick to move. Without him the Marauders faced an almost impossible task of finding their way through a maze of paths. Laffin and other Marauder officers slashed the spot where the guide’s foot had been bitten and sucked the poison from the wound until the Kachin guide was well enough to mount a horse and resume leading the column. At Myitkyina airfield, Captain Laffin, in an L-1 observation unarmed aircraft, was killed in an attack by Japanese Zeros as he was departing the airfield. Captain William A Laffin was first buried at the American Military Cemetery at Myitkyina in Burma and later transferred to Kalaikunda, India. The families of Captain William Laffin had initially decided to bury his remains at Arlington National Cemetery but for the convenience of the families visiting the grave-site, he was interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Honolulu, Hawaii in Section P, Grave 443 on February 23, 1950. T/Sgt. Edward Mitsukado, a Nisei interpreter with the 5307th Composite Unit, wrote to the Commandant of the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) at Camp Savage, Minnesota in June of 1944. He began his letter to Colonel Rasmussen by indicating “that the 14 boys who left Camp Savage Sept. 13 of last year [1943] with Capt. [William A.] Laffin have done their job in magnificent style. They have conducted themselves as soldiers throughout the campaign, and officer[s] and men of this outfit have only the highest praise for them. They volunteered to come over with the volunteer outfit and have proved themselves beyond any doubt and question.”
Sources: “Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific”, by Lyn Crost, ISBN-13 978- 0891415213, 1994 Nationwide Gravesite Locator, National Cemetery Administration, US Department of Veterans Affairs findagrave
Sunbury Daily Item, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, June 1, 1944
Gathering of the 5307th staff in Burma - Lt Col Hunter center; 1st Lt William Laffin far right Read the Article: Capt. Laffin Leads Marauders to Myitkyina