Detachment 101

by Les Hughes

© 1993 by author







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Originally designated U.S. Experimental Station, Detachment 101, OSS, and activated in September of 1942, the organization was formed to conduct intelligence and paramilitary operations in China. But the political complexities of the CBI Theater coupled with the needs of the moment led to the deployment of Detachment 101 in Burma. Trained by Detachment 101 and fighting alongside the unit were a group of indigenous Burmese tribes referred to collectively by the Americans, the British, and the tribesmen themselves as Kachins. Additionally, the name Jingpaw was one that several of the tribes themselves used.

Although Detachment 101's Jingpaw Rangers and Kachin Rangers shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) are readily familiar to insignia collectors, there seems to be a fair amount of uncertainty regarding their origin. In addition to the standard U.S.-made versions of these SSI, there are examples which have been modified in such a way as to remove the USA and invert the red and white striped portion of the shield. Were the U.S.-made SSI actually worn? Were some of the SSI modified during the war, and if so, why?

The answer to both questions is yes. Ed Milligan, who has long had both an interest in Detachment 101 and close ties to its Association of veterans, summarized for me what he'd been told regarding the SSI by Dennis Cavanaugh, a 101 veteran who serves as the Detachment 101 Association's historian. Subsequently, I telephoned Cavanaugh and discussed the matter with him; and he generously sent me quite a bit of information. This is what Cavanaugh wrote regarding the SSI.

"They came from Calcutta in a cardboard box about 2'x3'x18" and sat on the floor between Ray Peers's office and mine in our basha in Bhamo. We were told they were not to be issued—there was a problem. However, I dipped in and snagged a few, and so did others. Before I wrote the article [in the 101 Association Newsletter] I talked to several people about them, including Ray Peers, but all I got were mumbles in return. So all I can tell you is that I guess we ordered them before checking with Theater headquarters. The British were irritated about the USA because Burma was part of their Empire, not ours. So that went. Somebody else said it was too much like the CBI patch. So we turned it upside-down—and I thought it suggested a pagoda, which was neat. It came out as you see it. The original [unaltered] ones that later showed up were the stolen ones. ...However, sometime later another patch, Jingpaw Rangers, came out, and I snagged a couple of those. Since I was airdrop supply officer I had access."

Cavanaugh sent me a photocopy of the only 101 SSI still in his possession: a modified Jingpaw Rangers SSI. In fact, all of the modified SSI that I have seen have been the Jingpaw Rangers version.

(The story has circulated among collectors that the name 'Jingpaw'—which translates as 'man' or 'human'—was considered to be derogatory by the Kachins, and this led them to reject the Jingpaw Rangers SSI. I could not find any evidence to support this story. Based on my conversations with 101 veterans who are very knowledgable about the various tribes of Burma, I concluded that if there was any preference for the Kachin Rangers version over the Jingpaw Rangers version, it was because more of the tribesmen identified with the name Kachin than did with the name Jingpaw.)

In researching the Jingpaw Rangers and Kachin Rangers SSI, Ed Milligan learned they were made by a firm in Washington, D.C., by the name of A&N. Milligan visited the firm in an effort to learn more and was told that the person who would be able to answer his questions was a fellow who was retired from the firm. Milligan contacted the fellow, who, it turned out, did indeed recall the SSI.

The fellow told Milligan that A&N had manufactured the SSI on three occasions: once during and twice after the war (once in the late '40s or early '50s, and once in the '60s). Based on this information, I would wager that the majority of the U.S.-made Jingpaw Rangers and Kachin Rangers SSI one sees in collections are of post-war manufacture. (Though some dealers place a premium on the altered SSI, it's virtually impossible to tell when the alteration was done.)

Both Joseph Lazarsky (see below) and Cavanaugh confirmed that two items were made expressly for the Kachins: the CMA medal and the Detachment 101 Burma Campaign Bar. The CMA medal (Citation for Military Assistance) was manufactured as the result of a misinterpreted message. Although one source [1] states the CMA's were distributed to the Kachins "by the hundreds," Lazarsky places the number at fewer than fifty; all but a handful of which remained in Burma with their recipients. (The CMA was reproduced in a limited quantity by the 101 Association in the '70s. The reproductions are in pewter and should fool no one.) By contrast, the Burma Campaign Bars—awarded to Kachins who had distinguished themselves in combat—were manufactured in much larger numbers, and there were enough for many of the American 101 personnel to grab one (one 101 veteran told me he'd "taken a handful"). Collectors should be aware that excellent copies of the Burma Campaign Bar exist.

Let me end this section with a caveat. A number of magazine articles recounting his personal wartime experiences with the Kachins have been written by one James Fletcher. The editors of some of the publications in which Mr. Fletcher's articles appeared have referred to him as a former Jingpaw Ranger.

Concerned by the impression Fletcher's articles were giving, Joseph Lazarsky, who commanded 101's First Kachin Battalion, and who has served as both President of the Detachment 101 Association and as the Chairman of its Board of Trustees, wrote in the 101 Association Newsletter (June 1991): "For some years now members of the 101 Association have been confused regarding the status of Jim Fletcher. This confusion has been brought about by the numerous articles Fletcher has written for the Ex-CBI Roundup and other periodicals regarding his experiences with the Kachins during WWII. The Roundup is apparently convinced he was a member of Detachment 101. To make a long story short, Fletcher was with V Force and was never, repeat never, a member of Detachment 101..."

Lazarsky pointed out that Americans attached to V Force were given the option of joining 101 or returning to their original units when V Force was disbanded. Fletcher—who, I am told, was a radio operator—was not among those who opted to join 101. Fletcher does hold Associate membership in the 101 Association, as do a number of others who did not serve in 101 (the author included).  Those who encounter Mr. Fletcher's articles may wish to consider these facts when weighing what he has written as it relates to Detachment 101.