On November 19, 2004
Senator Daniel K. Akaka read into the Congressional
Record, the official record of proceedings and debates of the US Congress,
The Nisei Intelligence War Against Japan. The paper, written by Ted
Tsukiyama, Esq., MIS historian for Hawaii, is a comprehensive and
authoritative coverage of all major aspects of MIS service in the Asia Pacific
theater before, during and after WW II [in the Occupation of Japan].
The Nisei Intelligence War Against Japan by Ted Tsukiyama
The World War II war against Japan has been
described in John Dower's book "War Without Mercy" as the most savage, bitterly
fought racial war in history. Caught in between this epic struggle as innocent
victims were the Nisei, American citizens of Japanese ancestry, who were neither
accepted nor trusted by both America and Japan. The widespread question and
doubt as to their loyalty to America extended to grave uncertainty of whether
the Nisei would be willing to fight against an enemy of their same ancestry.
This calls for the telling of the little-
known story that there were over 6,000 Nisei who more than willingly and resolutely fought against the Japanese enemy during World War II as military intelligence linguists serving in the American and Allied forces. Briefly, this is that story.
As the probability of war against Japan mounted in the summer of 1941, the U.S. War Department realized its deficiencies in the intelligence operations against Japan. The Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) was hastily authorized and created to train linguists skilled in interpretation, translation and interrogation in the Japanese language, established at the Fourth Army Intelligence School located
at Crissey Field, Presidio of San Francisco. With a meager budget of $2,000 and an initial enrollment of 60 students, the first classes commenced their studies of military Japanese on November 1, 1941, a scant 5 weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan. After a grueling 6 months of training, only 45 of the initial enrollment of 60 students survived to graduate in May 1942, 35 of whom were immediately assigned
and deployed out to the Alaskan and Guadalcanal campaigns.
>From the outset the Army recognized that the American Nisei possessed the best qualifications, competence and potential for Japanese intelligence specialist training, yet harbored grave doubts about the Nisei's loyalty to America. Soon news came back from the field of vast sources of new Japanese intelligence uncovered by a pioneer linguist team lead by Captain John Burden of Hawaii in the battle of
Guadalcanal, and field commanders began flooding the MISLS with demands for more Nisei linguists. The need to meet this surging demand for Japanese language linguists led the MISLS in December 1942 to recruit 58 Nisei from the 100th Battalion then training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, to secure the transfer of 250 Nisei from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to scour the 10 relocation camps to recruit MIS students from behind their barbed wire enclosures, and to conduct two recruiting trips to Hawaii in June 1943 and February 1944 to enlist over 500 Hawaii Nisei for intelligence training at MISLS.
With the forced evacuation of 110,000 Japanese from the West Coast under Executive Order 9066 in the spring of 1942, the MISLS was transferred to Camp Savage, Minnesota where it continued to recruit, train and graduate successive classes of Japanese linguist specialists at roughly six month intervals totaling some 1,600 graduates. The ever-increasing enrollment overtaxed the facilities at Camp Savage forcing the MISLS to move to larger facilities at nearby Fort Snelling in the spring of 1944. Here, classes training WAC students, oral language training and occupation civil affairs administration were added to the curriculum. By V-J Day in August 1945, 10 classes had been trained and graduated from MISLS at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling and another 3,000 students were enrolled and learning Japanese at the Snelling facilities at that
time. In all, during its history MISLS trained and graduated 6,000 students for combat and occupational duty against Japan in World War II. In June 1946, MISLS was then moved to the Presidio at Monterey, California and was renamed the Defense Language Institute where it teaches over 25 languages in the military intelligence field.
MISLS graduates served in every combat theater and engaged in every major battle fought against Japan during World War II. Nisei linguists were assigned to and served with the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, as well as with British, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, Chinese, and Indian combat units fighting on all fronts against the Japanese. Trained for duties as interrogators, interpreters and translators, cave flushers, radio interceptors, radio announcers and propaganda writers, the MIS graduates served as "the intelligence eyes and ears" of American and Allied Forces in the war against Japan. The Nisei linguists were sent out to serve in every battle front where war was being waged against the Japanese enemy.
South Pacific Command.
Commencing in May 1942 Nisei linguist teams were sent out from Admiral Halsey's command headquarters in New Caledonia to participate in the battle for Guadalcanal where Japan suffered its first defeat, in the invasion of New Georgia and Bougainville and in the encirclement and cut off of Rabaul, New Britain to neutralize Japan's main Pacific stronghold. In April 1943, linguist Harold Fudenna intercepted and translated a Japanese radio message which outlined the schedule of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's inspection trip to Bougainville. American P-38 fighters flown out of Guadalcanal intercepted and shot down Yamamoto's plane over Bougainville. General McArthur described this incident as "one of the singularly most significant actions of the Pacific War."
Southwest Pacific Command.
In July 1942 General McArthur established the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) of his Intelligence Division in Melbourne, Australia to become the largest military intelligence center to wage the tactical war against Japan. Throughout its history over 3,000 Nisei linguists served with ATIS, translating over 350,000 captured Japanese documents and interrogating more than 10,000 Japanese POWs. Nisei language teams were assigned to and participated in the two-year campaign of jungle warfare along the east and northern coast of New Guinea
and Borneo, invading and defeating Japanese defenses along the way. The Nisei were part of the invasion of the Philippines in October 1944 where General McArthur made his triumphal "I have returned" landing at Leyte. In March 1944, the "Z" Plan containing Japan's total defense strategy for the Western Pacific fell into American hands following the fatal crash of Admiral Koga in the Philippines. The document was rushed to ATIS in Australia where two Nisei, Yoshikazu Yamada and George "Sankey" Yamashiro, translated the "Z" Plan, and copies were distributed to every command in the U.S. Navy. When the invasion of the Marianas Islands began in June 1944, the counterattacking Japanese aircraft were virtually wiped out by U.S. Navy carrier planes in "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" by virtue of the prior knowledge of Japanese strategy contained in the "Z" Plan.
Southeast Asia Command. (CBI Theater).
Nisei linguists joined British, Indian, Chinese and U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India Theater to drive Japanese invaders out of Burma and to reestablish the Burma Road supply lines to China. They were part of the two ground forces in Burma, the Merrill's Marauders and Mars Task Force, performed guerrilla tactics behind the enemy lines with the OSS Detachment 101, provided radio intercept work for the 10th Army Air force, manned the Southeast Asia Translator & Interrogation Center (SEATIC) in New Delhi, India, made propaganda broadcasts for the
Office of War Information, and were leased out to the British forces fighting in southern Burma. In China, Nisei MIS performed intelligence services for the "Dixie Mission" to Communist China Headquarters at Yenan and OSS Detachment 202 in Kunming, and fought with Chiang Kai Shek's Forces against the Japanese in southwestern China.
Central Pacific Command.
Admiral Nimitz organized the "Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Area (JICPOA) operating out of Pearl Harbor, staffed by hundreds of Nisei translator/interrogators who were assigned out to serve with the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force units waging the Pacific War against Japan. Nisei participated in the amphibious landings and land battles of the Marine Corps to capture Tarawa, Makin, Kwajalein and Eniwetok and were part of Marine and Army attacking units invading and capturing Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Nisei radio interceptors flew as crews on U.S. Air Force bombing missions over the Japanese mainland. With their language skills they called into caves at Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa to persuade hundreds of Japanese soldiers and civilian natives to surrender and save their lives without needless mortality. T/Sgt Hoichi Kubo assigned to the U.S. 27th Division entered a cliffside cave alone at Saipan to face 9 armed Japanese soldiers to
successfully persuade them not only to release the 120 civilians held captive there but for the soldiers them-selves to surrender. Kubo was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest decoration received by any Nisei in the Pacific War. Nisei linguists attached to the front line of American invading forces not only assumed the normal hazards of combat but also faced the additional danger of being mistaken for an enemy Jap and shot at by their own troops, so they were assigned personal bodyguards at their sides at all times!
Japan's Surrender and Occupation.
With the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and surrendered on August 15, 1945. OSS Nisei like Fumio Kido, Dick Hamada and Ralph Yempuku parachuted down into Japanese POW prison camps at Hankow, Mukden, Peiping and Hainan as interpreters on mercy missions to liberate American and Allied prisoners.
Over 5,000 Nisei served as the vital link between General MacArthur's Occupational headquarters and the Japanese people during the seven year occupation of Japan, contributing to the promotion of peaceful and harmonious relationships between occupation forces and Japanese citizens. Nisei were part of military government offices established all over Japan to ensure proper implementation of occupational policies, interpreting the directives and verifying that local governments carried them out. Nisei buttressed U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps efforts to detect and prevent subversive activities against Occupation Forces, screened hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers repatriating back to Japan against communist influences, helped design the Land Reform Law, and provided vital translator/interpreter services at the War Crimes Trials against Japanese war criminals. Nisei participated in every major assignment covering military government, disarmament, civil affairs and intelligence and helped to frame the new Japanese Constitution which pledged that Japan would "forever renounce war as a sovereign right
of the nation." A personal assessment of the Nisei's role in the occupation is stated by Harry Fukuhara, a combat veteran of the Southwest Pacific campaign and himself a member of the occupation forces, thusly: "The role of the Military Intelligence Personnel during the Occupation of Japan also was very important in assisting the rapid recovery that helped Japan to be accepted back into the family of nations. Nisei soldiers, with their language fluency and knowledge of Japanese culture and customs, bridged the gap between U.S. forces and the Japanese government. This was one of the key elements contributing to the recovery of war-torn Japan, its people and economy. Nisei efforts also laid the groundwork for the bilateral relationships that exists today between the United States and Japan."
Such in brief is the story of the Nisei MIS linguist, America's little known "secret weapon" against Japan during World War II. Their story is little known because their identity and their work was conducted under the strictest security and secrecy and their vital role in waging the successful intelligence war against Japan remained classified for until over 30 years after the War. Their role was considered indispensable because they possessed and employed the most effective weapon – knowledge to be able to comprehend and pierce the enemy's complex, difficult
language and their services contributed tremendously to the Allied victory. General MacArthur stated that "Never in military history did any army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement." On April 1, 2000, the President of the United States bestowed upon the Nisei MIS the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor that can be awarded to any military unit. The major part of the citations reads: "The key contributions made by the members of the Military Intelligence Service in providing valuable intelligence on military targets helped advance the United States and Allied cause during World War II and undoubtedly saved countless lives and hastened the end of the war. The significant achievements accomplished by the faithful and dedicated service of the linguistic-intelligence specialist graduates of the Military Intelligence Service will never be forgotten by our grateful nation. Their unconquerable sprit and gallant deeds under fire in the face of superior odds, and
their self-sacrificing devotion to duty are worthy of the highest emulation."
The Nisei served with distinction and honor; not a single case of subversion or disloyalty was ever charged against them. Little is known that nineteen Nisei gave up their lives in the line of duty in the Pacific War. They convincingly proved that Japanese Americans were more than willing and able to fight against an enemy of their own race, and validated the truism "Americanism is not, and never was, a
matter of race or ancestry. Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart."
NOTE: On November 19, 2004 Senator Daniel K. Akaka read the above paper into the Congressional Record