‘The Registry’ shows vets fighting to preserve legacy of Military Intelligence Service

UNSUNG HEROES — Seiki Oshiro at this computer (left), compiling a registry of veterans of the Military Intelligence Service. photo courtesy of “The Registry”

“The Registry,” a film highlighting Japanese American soldiers whose exploits with the Military Intelligence Service in World War II helped the Allied Forces defeat Japan, will screen Feb. 23 at 4:45 p.m., during the Nichi Bei Foundation’s eighth annual Films of Remembrance program at the New People Cinema, 1746 Post St., in San Francisco’s Japantown.

The documentary by Bill Kubota and Steve Ozone focuses on a number of Nisei veterans in their twilight years as they reflect on what they did in the MIS. “With many Americans of that generation, the war remained central to their minds more than 70 years later,” Kubota explained in an e-mail. “We wanted to gather their thoughts before they were gone.”

Co-producers Ozone of Minneapolis and Kubota of Detroit had gathered some oral histories of Nisei in Minnesota, which led them to the MIS story in 2011. That’s when they learned about the registry compiled by Minneapolis-area resident Seiki Oshiro, who left a sugar plantation in Hawai‘i to join the MIS. 

The movie describes how Oshiro and Grant Ichikawa, among others, compiled the names of all the MIS veterans and told their story, which was difficult because the United States government failed to keep accurate records. 

“We spent … years compiling the names,” Ichikawa complains. “The War Department produced a list of names, but they didn’t list the first names, only initials.”

Explaining his collaboration by e-mail with Oshiro for 10 years, gathering and verifying names for the list of MIS veterans now stored on a huge Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, Ichikawa says in the film, “This is something I had to do … Who’s going to remember us? This list of Japanese names … maybe our kids, our grandchildren, maybe somebody will find out what we did during the war.” 

Crash Course in Japanese

The 7,000 soldiers of the MIS, both volunteers and draftees, took a crash course in Japanese at the Military Intelligence Language School in Minnesota, graduating in time to join the heaviest fighting by Allied Forces in the Pacific. 

These soldiers served as interrogators, interpreters, and linguists. They came from Hawai‘i and from mainland concentration camps where the United States government incarcerated most West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry during the war. 

Terry Doi, Mas Inoshita and Grant Ichikawa came from the Gila River camp in Arizona. John Okada and Frank Hachiya were from the camp at Minidoka, Idaho. Roy Matsumoto enlisted from the Jerome, Ark. camp. Bud Nakasone and Seiki Oshiro joined from Hawai‘i.

Some served with the U.S. Navy, others with the Marines, the Army Air Corps, and even the British Army. Military scholars say the secret exploits of the MIS shortened the war against Japan by two years.

Kibei Were Most Effective

The Kibei (Nisei reared and educated in Japan) were the most effective on the front lines in the Pacific, Kubota noted. “The U.S. government suspected the loyalty of the Kibei as they were indoctrinated in Japanese thought and language … but many Kibei despised Japan because … generally speaking, the Kibei were rejected and disdained, being seen only as Americans.”

The film recounts how Terry Doi, a Kibei who was with the U.S. Marines, fought in some of the Pacific War’s biggest battles, including Iwo Jima, where he crawled into caves persuading Japanese soldiers to surrender.

Roy Matsumoto served with the Army’s much-decorated Merrill’s Marauders, which infiltrated behind enemy lines in Burma. During a crucial battle, he shouted in Nihongo for the Japanese troops to “Charge,” and they rushed into an ambush. Matsumoto was credited with saving the lives of his entire unit.

Matsumoto “should’ve gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor,” Oshiro says in the film, but the Nisei was snubbed because, as an officer stated, “Japs shouldn’t get the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

Ichikawa, a Californian who joined the MIS in 1942 from the Gila River camp, received a Bronze Star for convincing a large number of Japanese to surrender during combat in the Southwest Pacific.

Frank Hachiya of Hood River, Ore., infiltrated behind enemy lines to map out Japanese defensive positions on Leyte in the Philippines, and although critically wounded, he managed to deliver the maps to his officers before he died. Because of anti-Japanese opposition in Hood River, it took four years before Hachiya’s body could be brought back for burial in his hometown.

Postwar Lives of MIS Vets

The veterans interviewed by the filmmakers led “very successful lives” after the war, Kubota stated. “Grant Ichikawa … was recalled into the service to work in intelligence in Japan. From there he would join the Central Intelligence Agency. His last assignment was in Vietnam and he was one of the last Americans to leave during the fall of Saigon. He retired right after that and lived in suburban Washington, D.C. until he died in late 2017.”

Mas Inoshita served in Burma with a British unit as an interrogator. After the war, he farmed in Arizona, helped establish a Buddhist temple there, and led tours of the Gila River camp.

The story of John Okada, who served on Guam during the war, is told by historian Frank Abe. Okada, while living in Detroit, wrote the acclaimed “No-No Boy,”one ofthe first Asian American novels. He later returned to Seattle and died in 1971.

Seiki Oshiro went to college and became a computer programmer in the early days of computing, Bud Nakasone remained in the military, rising to the rank of colonel, while Terry Doi worked with his son in the landscaping business in San Diego, Kubota noted.

One of the recurring themes in “The Registry” is how many of the stories will be passed on to future generations, Kubota continued. “What the Japanese Americans in the MIS did is important history, not just for Japanese Americans but all Americans.”

The Sansei filmmakers, who are cousins, spent seven years working on the film that was financed from The National Park Service confinement sites grant and by the Center for Asian American Media.

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