American World War II veterans are still repaying “debts” to their comrades-in-arms in northern Myanmar – because without them they might never have returned home.
They formed a guerrilla force, the Kachin Rangers, which numbered 10,800 at its peak and killed 5,400 Japanese while losing only 202 of their own – one of the highest kill-loss ratios in U.S. military history. They demolished Japanese bridges and trains, provided intelligence and rescued 425 downed airmen.
“When the war ended, we walked off and left them with a few medals, a few presents and nothing else,” he said before that trip. “It wasn’t right.” He spoke of “a debt of honor” owed by his unit, Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services.
In 1996 the veterans began Project Old Soldier, training impoverished villagers to plant corn, buckwheat and other crops instead of opium, sending nurses to visit ailing Kachin veterans and aiding orphans.