Minnesota’s Secret Weapon:
Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service

Exhibit Opening, Fort Snelling

Speech by Eric Saul
Minneapolis, Minnesota
May 17, 2015

[This speech was addressed to the Nisei veterans of the Military Intelligence Service who were present at the ceremony at Fort Snelling.]

Japanese Americans had been part of the United States of America since 1885. This year marks the 130 year anniversary of Japanese immigration.

It has now been 74 years since the Japanese language school was founded at the Presidio of San Francisco in November 1941.  It has been 72 years since the language school was opened here at Fort Snelling.

The legacy of your incredible wartime service of honor, duty and country lives on and will live on forever.  It will live on in the success of Japanese in America, and in the success of your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren…and forever.

In Japanese language schools, you were taught invaluable principles of hard work, honesty, loyalty, endurance and pride.  You were taught the cardinal virtues and ethics.  You took to heart the concepts of giri…sense of duty, on…debt of gratitude, gamman…quiet endurance, gambari…perseverance, kansha…gratitude, chugi…loyalty, enryo…humility, sekinin…responsibility, haji…shame, hokori…pride, meiyo…honor, gisei…sacrifice, oyakoko…love of the family, kodomo no tame ni…for the sake of the family, shojiki…honesty, otagai…reciprocity, shinsetsu...kindness, shigata ganai…it can’t be helped, resignation, okagesama de…all is owed to you, kuni no tame…give your all for the country, kamei ni kizu tsukena…never bring shame on the family, shimbo shite seiko suru…patient endurance brings success. These Japanese values served you well.  They helped you endure the adversities of your wartime experience.  They taught you to look on the bright side, remain optimistic, and keep your faith.  They encouraged you to honor your country and its principles.

Just before the outbreak of war, most Japanese American families were prosperous members of the lower middle class.

Many of you Nisei were making plans for college when your dreams suddenly collapsed in ruins on December 7, 1941.

Your worst nightmare was realized when the country of your ancestry, your parents’ homeland, attacked the United States.  How could a country that your parents were so proud of have put you in such an incredibly difficult—no impossible—place.  Yet you Nisei knew that America was your country.  There was no choice.

The ultimate insult for you Niseis was being classified by local draft boards as 4C – alien, ineligible for the draft.  You were American citizens.  How dare anyone declare you unfit to defend your country!  You were angry, but not bitter.

On the West Coast of the United States, the worst nightmare for the Japanese American community was realized.  120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, businesses and land.  In March 1942, you were sent to ten remote and desolate prison camps.  These camps couldn’t have been more inhospitable.  Many languished in these camps until the end of the war.  

During this forced exile, your parents lost everything that they worked for and built for nearly 50 years.  They lost it the instant President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.

Yet, despite this unwarranted treatment, your resolve and faith in the United States never wavered.

From the internment camps and other areas, thousands of you Niseis volunteered for wartime service.  You were defending a country that had not allowed your parents to become citizens.  It was a country that turned its back on you, but ultimately you kept your faith. 

According to historian Edwin O. Reichauer, “None retained greater faith in the basic ideals of America or showed stronger determination to establish their rights to full equality and justice, even when their fellow Americans seemed to deny them both. None shared greater loyalty to the United States or greater willingness to make sacrifices in the battlefield or at the home front for their country.”

More than 33,000 of you second generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) served faithfully, honorably and with courage in the Armed Forces of the United States. It can be said that you fought a war on two fronts: a war against the enemies in Europe and the Pacific, and the enemy of prejudice at home.

Though you Niseis looked different from other American soldiers, you had the same heart.  You also had strange sounding names, like Inouye, Matsunaga, Nakasone, Yanari, Tanaka, Tsukiyama, Okamoto, Yoshimura, Nunotani, Aiso, Kubo, Tsukano, Hajiro, Masuda, Tazoi, Doi, Tanabe, Fukuda, Nishimura, Suzuki, Hamada, Fukuhara, Ito, Sato, and Sakato. 

You Nisei soldiers were shorter than your American counterparts.  Your average height was 5 foot 4, and weight was 125 pounds.  Your IQ was on average 116.  This was ten points higher than was required to be an officer in the Army.

The “Go For Broke” exploits of the Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team have been well publicized and recognized, and rightfully so, as the unsurpassed combat record of Japanese Americans who fought as a military unit in Italy and France. The Military Intelligence Service story is one of numerous small units of you Nisei soldiers who operated in teams of ten to twenty men assigned to every combat division, Army corps and every campaign in the war against Japan.  You Niseis were on detached service to the U.S. Navy, Marines and Army Air Corps.  You were assigned to the British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, Chinese and Indian combat units.

Through it all, as indispensable translators of captured enemy documents, interrogators of enemy POWs and persuaders of enemy surrender, you were superbly effective. You also worked laboriously over tons of enemy documents—maps, battle plans, diaries, letters, records, manuals—at area headquarters, producing voluminous intelligence of all sorts that affected Allied strategy and operations. The men of ATIS, for example, produced 20-million pages of translations.

In the Solomon Islands, you MIS men translated an intercepted enemy radio message that revealed that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of Japan’s naval forces, was to arrive at a certain time at Bougainville. The Admiral’s arrival was successfully ambushed and the planes were destroyed. General MacArthur referred to this as the one most singularly significant actions of the war.

Prior to U.S. landings in the Philippines in October, 1944, thanks to translation done by MIS men, the Japanese Navy’s master plan for defending the Philippines was known to Allied forces. As enemy fleets responded to U.S. landings on Leyte, the U.S. navy was able to thwart the counter attacks and annihilate the enemy forces.

Another major coup was capture and translation in 1944 of the enemy’s Z-Plan, the Imperial Navy’s strategy for defending the Marianas Islands against the U.S. Navy’s carrier forces. As the U.S. invasion of the Marianas (Guam and Saipan) unfolded, Admiral Raymond Spruance’s carrier fleet and submarines dealt a death blow to the counter-attacking Japanese carrier forces. The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot resulted, a complete debacle for the enemy. Hundreds of enemy planes were swept from the skies, and Japanese aircraft carriers were never again able to fight the war. You MIS Nisei made all this possible.

On Okinawa in 1945, the last and bloodiest battle of the war, lasting over two months, the enemy’s fate was sealed by two vital pieces of intelligence translated by you Nisei. One was the enemy’s final main defense plan, issued a month before the U.S. landings, which accurately predicted the date and site of the U.S. landings and the strategy of the U.S. forces.

The other was a minutely detailed full contour map of Okinawa. The enemy map was translated overnight and 72 hours later 12,000 copies were delivered to Okinawa and distributed to all units. From then on it guided all the U.S. ground action and artillery fire.

From the frozen tundra of Attu, to the coral atolls of the Pacific, the jungles of New Guinea, the Philippines and Burma, the lava terrain of Iwo Jima and the bloodied escarpments of Okinawa, you Nisei were everywhere, obtaining intelligence from enemy documents, POWs and enemy communications, and calling upon the enemy to surrender. When needed you operated behind enemy lines and parachuted on assignments without real parachute training. In Burma and elsewhere, you crept to within hearing distance of enemy troops to learn their movements, at times tapping and listening to the enemy’s telephone communications.

Major General Charles Willoughby, G-2, intelligence chief of MacArthur’s command, is credited with stating:

“It is appropriate to record the invaluable services rendered by linguists of Japanese ancestry, the ‘Nisei’ from Hawai’i and California (sic); although the Japanese of the Pacific Coast were dealt with harshly in the hysteria following the Pearl Harbor attack, the American-Japanese amply demonstrated their loyalty to the United States in every capacity; indeed there is absolutely no record of sabotage or treason…”  

He is also credited with saying that the Nisei shortened the Pacific War by two years and saved possibly a million American lives and possibly billions of dollars.

General MacArthur was able to state with pride, “Never in military history did an army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement.”

Major General Frank D. Merrill in Burma said, “As for the value of the Nisei, I couldn’t have gotten along without them.” And he ordered his men, Merrill’s Marauders, to protect with their lives the 14-man team of MIS Nisei under his command.

The heroic and resourceful actions of you MIS Nisei were simply myriad. As the war progressed closer to Japan, you further performed an unequalled, compassionate role on Saipan and Okinawa, saving the lives of thousands upon thousands of civilians by calling them out of caves, often at the risk of your own lives.  Sergeant Herbert Yanamura and Sergeant Takejiro Higa saved thousands of Japanese civilians and soldiers on Okinawa from almost certain death.

We remember Hoichi “Bob” Kubo who, on Saipan, successfully thwarted a suicide attack against the Army on July 8, 1944, saving the lives of thousands of Americans.  After the fighting stopped, Kubo helped save the lives of 120 Japanese civilians and soldiers in a cave.  He persuaded them to surrender.  For this, he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest decoration awarded to any Nisei in the Pacific War.

As General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell said, “The Nisei bought an awfully big hunk of America with their blood.”

Reviewing the exploits of the MIS men, Major General Clayton Bissell, Chief of the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, told a graduating MIS class: “If you Japanese-Americans are ever questioned as to your loyalty, don’t even bother to reply… Your gallant deeds under fire will speak so loudly that you need not answer.”

When the war ended in August of 1945, your work was not over, for now you were needed to bridge the language gap in the Allied Occupation of Japan. You did, performing again an indispensable role.

The U.S. occupation of Japan was one of the most benevolent and benign in world history. Japanese Americans helped write new laws and create new institutions.  You helped in the writing of the modern Japanese constitution.  You helped create progressive land reforms and civil rights for Japanese women. One of the reasons Japan is the modern industrial giant that it is today is due to the role of you Japanese Americans in facilitating the transition from a military state to a democratic one.  More than 5,000 Japanese Americans worked in Japan during the occupation, from 1945 to 1952.

We remember Nisei linguist Kan Tagami, who was the personal linguist for General MacArthur.  On one occasion, Sergeant Tagami interpreted a private conversation between General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.  On this occasion, the Emperor thanked Tagami for his work and the work of Japanese Americans in bridging the gap between the two nations.  The Emperor told Tagami, “you must have suffered much because of the war between our countries.”  This was the only time that a Nisei had ever spoken directly to the Emperor of Japan.  Before the war, Tagami had studied in Japan as a Kibei and every day he had to bow down before the picture of the Emperor in his classroom.  How ironic that he was now thanked by this singular supreme representative of Japan.

Like the Nisei who served with the 442nd Regiment in Europe, you MIS Nisei fought two wars—one against the military enemy and the other against racial prejudice and distrust toward you at home. By fighting the first, you would overcome the other.

For you Nisei of MIS, further, there was a certain compassionate dilemma to be resolved in your hearts and minds. Being Japanese by blood, whose parents had come from Japan, you would literally be fighting your kin, but your loyalty to country had to be upheld. You had been taught at home, “To thy parents be truly respectful and to thy country be utterly loyal.” For the Samurai of old Japan, the path of loyalty would have been the only honorable one to take, even at the price of warring on one’s own kin. Because you were so resourceful and also loyal, you MIS Nisei have been appropriately called the “Yankee Samurai of World War II.”

You proved, once and for all time, stated in the words of President Roosevelt, that Americanism is a state of mind, and not of race or color.

Hawai’ian Nisei veteran of the ROTC, Hawai’i Territorial Guard, Varsity Victory Volunteers, 552nd Field Artillery, and Military Intelligence Service, historian and community leader Ted Tsukiyama said it most eloquently: “We are the beneficiaries of the Nisei soldiers’ wartime history and ultimate sacrifice, represented by 719 white crosses marked with Japanese names standing throughout Europe, the United States and Hawai’i.”  We are forever in your debt.