Agreement signed for MIS Learning Center at Building 640

HISTORIC AGREEMENT — Marvin Uratsu (R), former president of the Military Intelligence Service Association of Northern California, spoke on the importance of such a resource center at the site of the former secret location of the MIS Language School. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

Memorial Day could have been a solemn occasion for Military Intelligence Service (MIS) veteran Marvin Uratsu, as his brother Gene — one of the Japanese language instructors of the first class secretly trained in the Presidio of San Francisco’s Building 640 — passed away in March.

But the surviving brother found the recent signing of a lease agreement to rehabilitate the once-secret Building 640 as an opportunity to ensure that his brother’s history remains part of a tribute to the spirit of the Nisei linguists who were credited for shortening World War II in the Pacific.

“His contributions will live on through the Historical Society’s efforts here,” said Marvin Uratsu, 86, of Richmond, Calif. “We have 6,000 stories to tell. Whether they’re living or gone, their spirit will be here.”

According to Uratsu, only a handful of the first class remain.

The National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) and The Presidio Trust signed an agreement on May 26 to rehabilitate Building 640 in the Presidio of San Francisco for reuse as the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center (MISHLC).

A former warehouse located along Crissy Field, Building 640 is the site of the first Military Intelligence Service Language School organized in November 1941 on the eve of World War II to train 58 Japanese Americans and two Caucasian U.S. Army personnel as linguists to serve in the Pacific Theater.

The 10,000 square-foot MISHLC will feature exhibits and ongoing public programs devoted to sharing the relatively little-known MIS story and exploring the lessons learned from this experience. It will be “the international center for the MIS legacy of patriotism, sacrifice, compassion and peace,” according to the NJAHS.

The Historic Learning Center is expected to open in 2012.

Attached to every combat unit in the Pacific War, the MIS linguists translated documents, intercepted intelligence, gathered key intelligence from prisoners of war, and ultimately helped American and Allied forces win the War in the Pacific, the NJAHS said in a statement.

Uratsu arrived in the Philippines on July 1, 1945, upon being trained in Fort Snelling, Minn. in 1944. Although the war ended shortly thereafter, he spent eights months in the Occupation forces in Japan, like many Nisei in the MIS who helped to serve as bridge-builders between the U.S. and the rebuilding country.

“This is an American story,” Uratsu said. “It is a story that all Americans can be proud of.”

And while the rehabilitated Building 640 will have a special focus and historical tie to the MIS, it will be “a complete story,” said Uratsu, including other facets of the Japanese American experience as well. “Hopefully what we learn here will lead to a more perfect union.”

According to NJAHS Executive Director Rosalyn Tonai, the 15-year agreement may be renewed when that time comes. Construction for the rehabilitation of the building will commence in August, she said.

The signing of the agreement represents “to a lot of people” that the long-awaited rehabilitation “is really going to happen,” said Francis Wong, NJAHS development director.

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