World War II MIS veterans hold ‘touching’ reunion after 67 years

NISEI VETS REUNITE ­— MIS veterans George Goto (left) and Mutsuo Hirose (right) at Scoma’s Restaurant see each other for the first time in Sausalito, Calif., after 67 years.

NISEI VETS REUNITE ­— MIS veterans George Goto (left) and Mutsuo Hirose (right) at Scoma’s Restaurant see each other for the first time in Sausalito, Calif., after 67 years.

After World War II ended in 1945, the Military Intelligence Service soldiers played a vital role in aiding Japan’s reconstruction, connecting Gen. Douglas Macarthur to the Japanese people though their language interpretation.

Like other military groups, these Nisei men formed strong, unforgettable friendships during their service. However, when it was time to return home, most of the men went their separate ways, moving back to the city they lived in before the wartime incarceration or settling in a new one. Because of this, many Nisei lost contact with one another.

Such is the case for MIS veterans George Goto and Mutsuo Hirose, who formed their friendship while taking Japanese language classes at the MIS Language School, but lost touch after their return home.

“With the Internet and Facebook, geographic separation is no longer an issue (today),” said Pauline Tomita, a National Japanese American Historical Society board member. “But as they scattered to Northern and Southern California and started their lives post-war, loss of contact was typical for men of their generation.”

But after 67 long years, Goto and Hirose were finally reunited in February 2014 at Scoma’s Restaurant in Sausalito, Calif.

“It was extremely touching because of the years past, on and on and on, and I really didn’t feel that I had a chance to meet again, but (the reunion) brought back quite a memory of fondness, happiness, sadness in being in Tule Lake and all that,” said Goto, who admitted he did not recognize his friend at first.

Although Hirose does not go to Northern California often, he was “motivated” to leave his home in Santa Ana, Calif. in order to see Goto, his daughter Tara Hirose Wu said.

Hirose Wu also attended the lunch at Scoma’s and said the two men acted as if their almost 70-year separation had not been so long, easily bonding and recollecting as if it had only been a few days.

“My dad is not usually very demonstrative with his emotions, but when he saw Mr. Goto, he was clearly happy,” she said. “He smiled, hugged, and laughed.”

Following the luncheon, Tomita presented Hirose with his Congressional Gold Medal, an award he did not receive three years ago because he was not notified about the award ceremonies for the the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the MIS veterans, Tomita said.

The two men reunited through Tomita, whose father Robert Tomita was also a friend of Goto and Hirose. After learning, within weeks of his death, in October 2012 that her father was also part of the MIS, Tomita began to learn more about her father’s past.

At the Sausalito lunch, Tomita said speaking to Goto and Hirose brought back memories of her own father before he became ill.

“Nisei men have a way about them — the way they speak, relate, tell a story, etc. — they reminded me of my father right away, so it was both comforting and bittersweet,” she said.

Tomita was able to meet the Nisei veterans because Hirose decided to speak and share his stories about her father at Robert Tomita’s funeral. Tomita said Hirose contacted the church on the day of the funeral after reading the obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

“I wanted people to remember my dad for who he was and to celebrate his life, not mourn his death,” she said. “Mr. Hirose’s stories set the tone for that.”

Goto, Hirose and Tomita’s father Robert got to know each other during the nine months they spent learning Japanese together at the MIS Language School in the Presidio of Monterey. However, Goto and Robert Tomita first met while being incarcerated in Tule Lake.

Goto, who was about 16-years-old at the beginning of the incarceration, played basketball with Tomita in a club they joined.

Goto also played baseball and spent most of his time playing sports.

Hirose arrived in Tule Lake in 1943 and lived in the same block as Goto. He said he knew of Goto. Although Hirose was also interested in sports and often watched the games, he did not play with Goto and Tomita because he is a few years younger and the club had already been formed by the time he arrived.

“I really didn’t know (Goto) in camp, but he was my role model,” said Hirose, who praised Goto and Tomita for their athletic ability.

Goto enlisted with the U.S. Army in 1946 for a three-year service term. He began his military career parachuting, but decided not to continue it, and was sent to the MIS Language School after being processed in Fort Dix in New Jersey when military personnel realized he is Japanese American.

Hirose, on the other hand, was drafted into the military in 1945 when he turned 18 years old. He decided to enlist with the Air Force because he didn’t want to be a foot soldier.

“It was either go into the military or go spend time at Fort Leavenworth federal prison,” Hirose said.

Although Goto and Hirose joined the military at different times, they ended up taking Japanese in the same term with Tomita, and they were all in the same class.

Goto said the MIS Language School was not just a Japanese language school. Other languages — like Spanish, German and Russian — were also taught there, but the main language was Japanese.

While at school, Goto said they were encouraged to speak nothing but Japanese, which became difficult when people used different dialects that stemmed from their family’s native prefecture in Japan. During class, they were taught colloquial Tokyo speech.

After their nine-month term, Goto, Hirose and Tomita took the same ship to Japan. From there, they separated to handle different tasks.

Goto said he worked with the Japanese baseball teams as a language translator and interpreter. He played on the General Headquarters Major League baseball team, but said he was not allowed to play with the Japanese players.

Similar to Goto, Hirose said he played football and softball during his service in Japan and does not remember seeing Goto or Tomita until their trip back to the United States.

Since returning home, Hirose said he saw Tomita a few times since they lived near each other in Southern California and was even asked to be Tomita’s best man at his wedding. Hirose said he was very flattered to be asked.

“I didn’t know him that well, and in fact I’m sure he had a lot of other good, close friends, but he asked me to be his best man,” Hirose said.

Now decades later, Goto and Hirose have had the chance to reconnect and reminisce though all the years that passed. However, Pauline Tomita said she did not get the chance to ask the two men enough about her father. So they agreed to meet again this June in a more quiet and private setting.

“I’m looking forward to hearing their stories, seeing their interaction and learning more about my father,” she said.

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