Memoirs of an MISLS Instructor

By George K. Hironaka, M/Sgt.

Little did I dream when I was sworn in at Schofield Barracks on June 12, 1943, that I would spend my entire army life as a student, and later as an instructor of the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

I have many fond memories of the warm and gracious reception shown us by the people of Minnesota and the invigorating beauty of the vast northwest--the picturesque fall seasons, the enchantment of the "Ten Thousand Lakes" and historic sites. These memories overshadow the bitter cold and the exasperating struggles in trudging through the snow and slush at Camp Savage, and the excruciating heat and bothersome itch of chiggers encountered during basic training in Fort McClellan, Alabama.

The countless classroom hours of trying to force-feed mastery of the difficult Japanese language to the students are dimmed in importance when compared to the valorous actions by our MISLS graduates who faced the dangers and difficulties in frontline duties in the vast Pacific Theater. Their achievements shortened the Pacific War and saved tens of thousands of lives. Much of the amazing recovery of Japan from the war devastation can be attributed to our MIS linguists, who continued their role of "Eyes, ears, and voice" of the Army of Occupation long after the signing of peace with Japan. It is my fervent hope that the war efforts of the MIS can eventually be given the justly-deserved accolades and publicity given our brothers-in-arms of the 100th and the 442nd.

I learned of the suffering endured by the mainland Japanese families from my fellow instructors, who had volunteered from the various internment camps. My wife, whom I met in Minneapolis, filled me in on the privations she and her family members endured in Manzanar. We who lived in Hawaii during the war years should be grateful for having been spared the ordeals of forced evacuation and incarceration.

While conducting a class in Geography of Japan, I wrote the address of my father's ancestral home in Yamaguchi Prefecture on the blackboard. One of the students informed me that the address was the same as his father's and that there were some Hironaka girls in Minneapolis whose father seemed to have come from the same village. I met with the young ladies and confirmed that their father was my father's first cousin. I visited with these long-lost relatives who resided in Perkins, near Sacramento, before leaving for home to be discharged. They greeted me graciously in spite of the fact that their large home had burned to the ground, their farming machinery and equipment looted, and their fields ravaged by so-called "vigilantes." I am glad to relate that through their diligence and hard work, and the material aid and moral support of friendly Caucasian neighbors, they not only restored their previous losses but also achieved profitable harvests that provided for their future well-being.

One of my early students related to me that he interviewed a POW infantry captain, who told him about his Hawaii classmate at Waseda University in the mid-thirties. The captain had mentioned my name and adequately described me to him. Naturally, my former student denied knowledge of any such person. By mere coincidence, during my second post-war visit to Japan, the captain and I bumped into each other while browsing through the dictionaries section in Kinokuniya Book Store in Shinjuku. We have kept in touch and relived college life, as well as pre- and postwar experiences; but neither of us mentioned any war experiences. Perhaps, neither of us will ever bring up the subject.

Just before leaving Fort Snelling for discharge from Schofield Barracks on May 23, 1946, I was assigned to conduct a class for fresh recruits at the "Turkey Farm" (Oral Language School section). On the first day, an energetic Hawaiian piped up, "Hey, Sarge, you kinda talk like a kotonk, but you Hawaiian or wot?"

I smiled at him and replied, "Soldier, remember that regardless of whether you are a 'Buddhahead' or 'Kotonk', you're a soldier in the U.S. Army fighting for the same cause." On that score, we AJAs had better discard the "Shimaguni Konjo" (insular narrowness) that seems to be deeply implanted in us and we should strive to become first-class American citizens devoid of AJA or any other racial extraction designations.

(Courtesy of "Secret Valor" by Military Intelligence Service Veterans Club of Hawaii.)