Honoring the once-silenced MIS veterans


Just one month before the United States and Japan formally declared war on each other, in November of 1941, the U.S. Army secretly enlisted Japanese American soldiers and trained them as military linguists.

The Military Intelligence Service soldiers studied at the Presidio in San Francisco and at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling in Minnesota, before serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

In addition to serving in combat zones, the Nisei were linguists who “translated documents, intercepted intelligence, impersonated the enemy in battle, gathered key intelligence from prisoners of war and ultimately helped American and Allied forces win the war in the Pacific,” the National Japanese American Historical Society’s Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center Website states.

As Major Gen. (retired) Arthur Ishimoto recalled, “We made beach assault landings, we flushed enemies out of caves, we went on patrols, captured prisoners and interrogated them, we parachuted behind enemy lines and operated behind enemy lines for the duration, we worked with guerrillas and blew up bridges, ambushed enemy troops, destroyed their supplies.”

The MIS’ “intimate knowledge of the language and culture helped gain a tactical and strategic advantage over their opponents. Many effected the peaceful transition in the Occupation of Japan. As ‘grassroots’ ambassadors they helped lay the groundwork for Japan’s democracy,” the site adds.

Throughout the war, however, the soldiers were classified by the U.S. as “enemy aliens” and endured being called “Japs.” While battling the enemy, the Nisei also faced serious threats of “friendly fire.” Meanwhile, many of the Nisei’s own family members remained imprisoned in American concentration camps.

In the decades following World War II, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion have been lauded for their valor and service.

However, the United States government instructed the MIS for decades to keep their wartime patriotism and bravery a secret. As a result, far too many of these stories remain largely unknown to the public.

Quite fittingly, the MIS Historic Learning Center, established by NJAHS, recently opened to the public on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2013, completing a 20-year journey to honor the some 6,000 members of the MIS.

Today, Building 640, the site of the former language school, features educational exhibits, even using iPads, hosts public programs, and archives historical artifacts, all to share these stories of patriotism and sacrifice.

Many of the Nisei veterans are no longer with us, underscoring the importance of the MIS Historic Learning Center’s mission.

To learn more about the MIS and the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center, visit http://njahs.org/640.


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