Korean War Military Intelligence Service (MIS)

The Nisei (Japanese American Second Generation) officers and soldiers made a unique and vital contribution during the Korean War. The Nisei linguist soldiers, as a distinct group, served our nation in a very special way – as a distinct group doing that which no one else could do - with the use of the Japanese language.

This story has never been told, and even today remains generally unknown, even among the Japanese American community; and because of the highly sensitive nature of MIS, the full contribution of the Nisei soldier to the war effort is not recognized. The MIS activities were militarily and politically very sensitive but vital and necessary function. Intelligence gathering remains a serious business, as the explosive political situation in Korean peninsular continues to place our American soldiers in Republic of Korea at risk, as well as our military installations in Okinawa and Japan

I was one of over one thousand Japanese American linguists served in the Koran War as interrogators, translators, message interceptors, or interpreters within all branches of the Armed Forces. We were ordered not to operate behind enemy lines to collect intelligence; some Nisei infiltrated the enemy lines, and we never heard from them again. It was a well-known fact that the enemy would shoot any Japanese-American on the spot if suspected of being MIS personnel.

At the time, the U.S. was fighting two Asian Armies, North Korean and Chinese, with hardly anyone able to communicate in the other’s language. The Nisei were the only ones available who were able to bridge the communication gap using an unrelated fourth language, Japanese. These Nisei soldiers were trained as interrogators and fulfilled a vital role in the Korean War. They were assigned at every level, from the front with the U.S. Division and even with the South Korean Divisions, at Corps level, at Army level and even at the POW camps at Koji Island.

With the surprise entry of China into the war, the strain became serious and the need to know about the enemy critical. Unlike the relatively large number of Nisei linguist soldiers, there was a severe shortage of Korean-American and Chinese-American linguist soldiers in the U.S. Army. Military strategists also chose to use tri-lingual Koreans as interpreters. These Koreans had grown up in Manchuria and spoke fluent Korean, Chinese and Japanese. Ultimately, this prove ineffective because they could not speak English. The only possible communication was through the Nisei linguist. Many Nisei soldiers were sent to a six-month Korean course at the Army Forces Far East Command Intelligence School at Camp Drake, Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

Due to the contribution of the Nisei soldiers, countless American lives were probably saved. Each POW who was subjected to detailed interrogation at a different level for immediate tactical information at the front line to detailed broader interrogation at Corps and Army level. Almost everything about the enemy was an open book—enemy disposition, weaponry, movements, organization, morale, training state, names of commanders, re-supply status, potential targets; everything of importance was known.

The major contribution of the Nisei soldiers as a distinct group doing that which no one else could do was their unique role as interrogators. . The total number of enemy POWs exceeded 100,000 North Korean and 20,000 Chinese enemy soldiers, with almost all POWs being subjected to a series of interrogation at different levels, the sheer magnitude of this operation can be imagined.

Many Nisei were not selected by the Intelligence Service and remained with their original units, but it was indeed fortunate that the U.S. military had this pool of bi-lingual soldiers within its ranks. The irony was that most of these American soldiers had spent their teen years in confinement in internment centers, because of their Japanese heritage but later were considered absolutely essential for the U.S. Military during the Korean War precisely for that very same reason.


Sam Miyamoto

849 Ridgecrest Street

Monterey Park, Ca 91754

Korean War Veteran