Yankee Samurai

The Story of Japanese Americans

In the Military Intelligence Service

In the War in the Pacific



Curated by

Eric Saul


Text written by:

Chester Tanaka

Shig Kihara

Eric Saul


In Cooperation With:

The National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institute

Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island

National Park Service

Japanese American National Museum

National Japanese American Historical Society

Nisei Veterans Legacy Center

Japanese American Veterans Association

Club 100

442 Club

Hawaii State Archives




America’s Superb Secret Human Weapon in World War II


The history of Japanese Americans who resolutely served the United States in World War II to bring about the Allied victory over Japan is a magnificent story.

6,000 Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during World War II and fought covertly against the land of their ancestry, contributing tremendously to the Allied victory. They were, literally, America’s superb secret human weapon then, and what they did has been one of the best-kept secrets of the war.

Their role was truly indispensable and unique, for they employed a devastatingly effective weapon, their knowledge of the enemy’s complex and difficult language, which very few persons besides them on the Allied side could understand or use. They were superbly resourceful, courageous and loyal soldiers who served without fanfare in all campaigns and all fronts of the far-flung war throughout the Pacific, in China, India and Burma, and even in Europe where they secretly intercepted the enemy’s diplomatic communications.

Yet, despite the contributions and sacrifices made by them, their role in that war had to remain an untold military secret all these years until only very recently. It is a remarkable story without parallel.


The Role and Accomplishments of the Nisei Military Intelligence Soldiers


The “Go For Broke” exploits of the Nisei 442nd Infantry Regiment have been well publicized and recognized, and rightfully so, as the unsurpassed combat record of Japanese Americans who fought as an integral military unit in Italy and France. The MIS story, on the other hand, is one of numerous small units of Nisei soldiers who operated in detachments of ten to twenty men assigned to every combat division, Army corps and every campaign in the war against Japan.

It is also the story of much larger groups who served at intelligence centers at army and area headquarters level. Three main intelligence centers were operated, in the Southwest Pacific Area under General Douglas MacArthur, the Central Pacific Ocean Area under Admiral Chester Nimitz, and the China-Burma-India Area (CBI) under General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. The largest of these centers was at MacArthur’s headquarters and known as ATIS (Allied Translator Interpreter Section), which had as many as 3,000 Nisei at its peak. The other centers were JICPOA (Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area) and SATIC (Southeast Asia Translation and Interrogation Center).

Through it all, as indispensable translators of captured enemy documents, interrogators of enemy POWs and persuaders of enemy surrender, they were superbly effective. They 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.


Winning the War

Strategic Contribution of the MIS

In the Solomon Islands, the MIS 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 Rabaul. The Admiral’s arrival was successfully ambushed and the planes were destroyed. General MacArthur referred to this as the one most singularly significant action 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. The 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 the 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.


“The Nisei Saved Countless Lives…”

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, the Nisei were everywhere, obtaining intelligence from enemy documents, POWs and enemy communications, and calling upon the enemy to surrender. When needed they operated behind enemy lines and parachuted on assignments without real parachute training. In Burma and elsewhere they crept to within hearing distance of enemy troops to learn their movements, at times tapping and listening to the enemy’s telephone communications.

Maj. General Charles Willoughby, G-2, intelligence chief of MacArthur’s command, unequivocally stated, “The Nisei saved countless Allied lives and shortened the war by two years.”

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.


“Bought…with their blood.”

The heroic and resourceful actions of the MIS Nisei were simply myriad. As the war progressed closer to Japan, they further performed an unequalled, compassionate role on Saipan and Okinawa, saving the lives of thousands upon thousands of non-combatant enemy civilians by flushing them from caves, often at the risk of their own lives.

Some were killed in action, in New Guinea, Leyte, Luzon and Okinawa. The names of three of them, Sergeants Frank Hachiya of Oregon, George Nakamura of California and Yukitaka Mizutari of Hawaii, appear on three major buildings named after them at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. Mits Shibata died on Ie Shima, near Okinawa, shot in error by a BAR-wielding GI as he sought to rescue some civilians. Eddie Fukui perished in a kamikaze attack on his ship at the Kerama Islands off Okinawa as he intercepted enemy radio communications. Bill Imoto, Shoichi Nakahara and Satoshi Kurokawa are others who died in different places. And over twenty ATIS men were killed in a plane crash on Okinawa. Their names were Japanese, but they all served and died as American soldiers.

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.”


Occupation of Japan


When the war ended in August of 1945, their work was not over, for now they were needed to bridge the language gap in the Allied Occupation of Japan. This they 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.  They helped in the institution of the modern Japanese constitution.  They helped institute 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 the Japanese Americans in facilitating the transition from a military state to a democratic one.

Most of them were volunteers. Many were Kibei, or “returnees to America,” who had been sent to Japan by their parents to be educated there before the war. Not all were bilingually expert, for the Japanese language was exceedingly hard to learn and use. But they teamed up with the Kibei whose Japanese was stronger to do their job.

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

For the Nisei of MIS, further, there was a certain compassionate dilemma to be resolved in their hearts and minds. Being Japanese by blood, whose parents had come from Japan, they would literally be fighting their kin, but their loyalty to country had to be upheld. They 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 they were so resourceful and also loyal, the MIS Nisei have been appropriately called the “Yankee Samurai of World War II.”


The MIS Language School

Surprisingly, even before Pearl Harbor in the summer of 1941, several U.S. Army officers, with admirable prescience and faith in the loyalty of the Nisei, set about establishing a secret school to train them in military intelligence. These officers, including John Weckerling and Kai E. Rasmussen, had been American military attaches in Japan in the 30’s and were acquainted with the difficulty of mastering the Japanese language. They foresaw a dire need for American soldiers capable of deciphering the language in the event of war with Japan.

The standard Japanese language, especially its writing, is difficult to learn, but military Japanese was even more difficult due to its peculiar, complex structure and form. It provided an effective barrier to the intelligence operations of an adversary.

The officers succeeded in obtaining the War Department’s approval to proceed, and with a meager budget of $2,000 for supplies, they launched the school on November 1 in a small hangar, which still stands today, at Crissy Field in the Presidio of San Francisco. There were four civilian Nisei instructors and 60 students (58 Nisei and 2 Caucasians) assembled from various army units.

From this sparse beginning, when war came the school was rapidly expanded as the need and demand for its graduates mushroomed. The total relocation of Japanese persons from the West Coast in June, 1942 also caused the school to be moved at that time to racially more hospitable Minnesota—to Camp Savage, a former Civil Conservation Corps log-cabin camp 20 miles south of Minneapolis. There the school underwent great expansion as combat units in the Pacific demanded more and more MIS soldiers. In 1944 the school was moved to more comfortable quarters at Fort Snelling in St. Paul.

By the war’s end, the school had trained and sent afield 6,000 men. Then after the war it was moved back to the West Coast in 1946, to the Presidio of Monterey, where it became the now permanent and extensive U.S. Defense Language Institute, which has trained through the years since then more than 70,000 valuable military linguists in various strategic languages.

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The Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts exhibit was made possible with the help of the following organizations:  National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS), San Francisco; Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Los Angeles; 442nd Veterans Club, Honolulu; Club 100, Honolulu; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; Gedenkstaette Dachau, Munich; Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC), Los Angeles; Hawaii State Archives, Honolulu; Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation; Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA), Washington, DC; Library of Congress; MIS Veterans Clubs, Norcal and Honolulu; National Archives and Records Administration; Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, Maui; Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles; Sons and Daughters of the 442nd RCT, Hololulu; Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island and the National Park Service; Survivors of the Outer Camps of Dachau; Twin Cities JACL Chapter.

We would like to thank the following Japanese American veterans: Chester Tanaka, Mike Masaoka, Tom Kawaguchi, Terry Shima, Shig Kihara, Harry Iwafuchi, Hiro Takasugawa, Shig Doi, Senator Daniel Inouye, MH, Senator Spark Matsunaga, Colonel Mitsuyoshi Fukuda, Judge John Aiso, Paul T. Bannai, Frank Dobashi, Kenji Ego, Monty Fujita, Colonel Harry Fukuhara, Nobuo Furuiye, Liebe Geft, Hank Gosho, Tak Goto, Richard Hayashi, Chaplain Hiro Higuchi, Albert Ichihara, Ichiro Imamura, Susumo Ito, Shig Iwasaki, Arthur Kaneko, Shiro Kashino, DSC, Bob Katayama, Mas Kawaguchi, Colonel Tom Kobayashi, Mits Kojimoto, Bob Kubo,  Joseph Kurata, Ben Kuroki, Don Kuwaye, Buddy Mamiya, Tad Masaoka, Clarence Matsumura, Robert Midzuno, Ted Miyagishima, Mitch Miyamoto, Art Morimitsu, Mote Nakasato, William Nakatani, Wally Nunotani, Ron Oba, William Oda, Paul Ohtaki, Tosh Okamoto, George Ouiye, Colonel Henry Oyasato, Barry Saiki, Lawson Sakai, Haru Sakaji, George Sakato, MH, Robert Sasaki, Bob Sato, Yone Satoda, Satoru Shikiasho, Terry Shima, Marshall Sumida, Kan Tagami, Michio Takata, Shiro Takeshita, Ben Tamashiro, Milton Tanizawa, Bob Thompson, Tadashi Tojo, Rudy Tokiwa, Shiro Tokuno, Mel Tominaga, John Tsukano, Ted Tsukiyama, Gene Uratsu, Marvin Uratsu, Bob Utsumi, Jack Wakamatsu, Jun Yamamoto, Shig Yokote, Noby Yoshimura, George Yoshino, and many, many others.

Others we would like to thank are: Colonel James Hanley (Commander, 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT), Major Orville C. Shirey (Executive Officer, 442nd RCT), General William R. Peers (Commander, OSS Detachment 101), Captain Norman Kurlan and General Mark Clark.  We would also like to thank the families of General Joseph Stillwell, Colonel Charles Pence and Colonel Virgil Miller. 

We would also like to thank: Daisy Satoda, S. Dillon Ripley, Norman Mineta, Etsu Masaoka, Brian Buhl, Melanie N. Agrabante, Uri Chanoch, Abe Cooper, Loni Ding, Barbara Distel, Yo Doi, David Fukuda, Pola Ganor, Solly Ganor, Tara Hadibrata, Edgar Hamasu, Paul Hara, Mas Hashimoto, Glen Hayashi, Carole Hayashino, Shirley Ann Higuchi, JD, Phyllis Hironaka, Arnold Hirura, Ernie Hollander, Bill Hosokawa, Tom Ikeda, Mae Isonaga, George Johnson, Ann Kabasawa, Stanley Kanazaki, Bob Kane, Zvi Katz, Karen Nunotani Kern, Colonel Young O. Kim, DSC, Greg Kimura, Lillian Kimura, Don Koppel, Sharon Kulley, Luella Kurkjian, Mitch Maki, Mary Masuda, Hugo Mendoza, Claire Mitani, Archie Miyatake, Peggy Mizumoto, Darice Mori, Floyd Mori (JACL), Pierre Moulin, Sheila Newlin, Brian Niiya, Don Nose, Catherine Nunotani, Franklin S. Odo, Toshio Okamoto, Eric Penrod, Tom Pfannenstiel, Pamela Sakamoto, Frank Sato, Katriel Schorey, Ross Segawa, Susan Shaner, General Eric Shinseki, LTC Donald R. Sims, Sally Sudo, Tomoye Takahashi, Cookie Takeshita, Linda Tamura, Jim and Yoshi Tanabe, David Tanaka, Masako "Missi" Tanaka, Rosalyn Tonai, Mark Cotta Vaz, Kyle I. Watanabe, Lori Whaley, Bryan Yagi. 

The Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts exhibit that was curated and shown at the Ellis Island Museum, and later at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, was donated to the Nisei Veterans Legacy Center (NVLC) in Hawaii.  The exhibit was presented in a number of important venues, including the Hawaii State Capitol.  Special thanks go to the officers and members of the NVLC: Wes Deguchi, Glenn E. Goya, Lawrence M. G. Enemoto, Mark Matsunaga, Byrnes Yamashita.

Quotes Related to the MIS Experience
in World War II


The Nisei saved countless Allied lives and shortened the war by two years.

- Major General Charles Willoughby, G-2, intelligence chief of MacArthur's command


As for the value of the Nisei, I couldn't have gotten along without them.

- Major General Frank D. Merrill, in Burma


The Nisei bought an awfully big hunk of America with their blood.

- General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell


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.

- Major General Clayton Bissell, Chief of the Military Intelligence  Division of the War Department




Subject: Nisei.

            1.  A report by Lt. Colonel Marcel G. Crombez, AGF Special Representative in CBI,*contains the following which will be of interest to you in connection with Nisei training.

            a.  The Nisei personnel which were attached to First Galahad (475th Infantry Regiment) have proven to be of great value to that organization.  In every instance the men have been loyal and demonstrated great courage in carrying out their assignments.

            b.  They have proven their usefulness in the following manner:

            (1) Interpreting for U.S. officers Japanese commands which were clearly distinguishable in close combat in which this organization took part.

            (2) Translating, identifying, and selecting important Japanese documents for immediate dispatch to higher headquarters.

            (3) As interpreters accompanying patrols.

            c.  One incident is worthy of note.  During the early stages of the campaign in the Mogaung Valley the Second Galahad Battalion, executing a flanking movement, was surrounded by Jap elements for a period of thirteen days.  During the last day the Japanese attacked the Second Battalion’s position sixteen times.  Each time the battalion commander was able to anticipate the direction of the attack due to the fact that the Nisei attached to his staff were able to overhear the Jap officers' instructions which they were shouting to their subordinates.  The visi­bility in the area averaged 20 to 30 yards, and the attacking force was but 20 to 70 yards away, and the commands could be clearly heard. Through the interpretation of their commands the Second Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel George A. Magee, Jr., was able to shift his troops to block the main Jap effort and to concentrate his fire on the Japs as they endeavored to penetrate the battalion's lines. At the end of the day the interpreters told the battalion commander that the Jap officers were reprimanding the Jap soldiers for lack of courage, to which the soldiers were replying and offering as an excuse the numbers that had been killed or were missing.


/s/ W. H. Wood Colonel, G. S. C.

Chief, Asiatic Theatre

Theatre Group, OPD



Every Marauder knows these boys by name even if they don't know ours. . . . This is due to the courage and bravery shown by them.  One of our platoons owe their lives to Sergeant Hank [Goto] who trans­lated Jap orders. . . foolishly yelled to the effect that they were attempt­ing a flanking movement. Hank. . . we called him ‘Horizontal Hank’ because he has been pinned down so many times by Jap machine gun fire. . . guided the machine gun fire on our side which killed every Jap on that side. The boys who fought alongside of Hank agree that they have never seen a more calm, cool, and collected man under fire. . . he was always so eager to be where he could be of the most use and effectiveness and that was most always the hot spot. . . . And yet while the other boys boast of the number of Japs they got he doesn't talk very much about the three he had to his account. He usually changes the subject by saying ‘Honorable ancestors much regret meeting Mer­rill's Marauders.’ I hope I haven't given the impression that I'm trying to glorify him. Many of the boys and myself especially, never knew a Japanese American or what one was like. . . . Now we know and the Marauders want you to know that they are backing the Nisei 100 per cent. It makes the boys and myself raging mad to read about movements against Japanese Americans by the 4-F'ers back home. We would dare them to say things like they have in front of us.

- Caucasian soldier with Merrill’s Marauders in the China-Burma-India theater, speaking of the Japanese American Military Intelligence Soldiers


Had it not been for the loyalty, fidelity, patriotism, and ability of these American Nisei, that part of the war in the Pacific which was dependent upon intelligence gleaned from captured documents and prisoners of war would have been a far more hazardous, long drawn out affair.  At a highly conservative estimate, thousands of American lives were preserved and millions of dollars in material were saved as a result of their contribution to the war effort.

- Colonel Sidney F. Mashbir, commander, Asiatic Theatre Intelligence Service


            My dad is fifty-eight years old now.  He has been here [the U.S.] thirty years at least.  He came to this country with nothing but a bed roll.  He worked on the railroads and he worked in the sugar-beet fields.  If I told you the hardships he had you wouldn’t believe me.  I owe a lot to my father.  Everything I am I owe to him.  All through his life he was working for me.  During these last years he was happy because he thought he was coming to the place where his son would have a good life.  I am the only son.  I have to carry on the family name.  You white people have some feeling like this but with us it is greatly exaggerated.

            I tell you this because it has something to do with my answer about the draft question.  We are taught that if you go out to war you should go out with the idea that you are never coming back…  That’s the Japanese way of looking at it…

            In order to go out prepared and willing to die, expecting to die, you have to believe in what you are fighting for.  If I am going to end the family line, if my father is going to lose his only son, it should be for some cause we respect…  I would have been willing to go out forever before evacuation.  It’s not that I’m a coward or afraid to die.  My father would have been willing to see me go out at one time.  But my father can’t feel the same after this evacuation and I can’t either…

            There isn’t much I can do for my father any more; I can’t work for him the way I used to.  But I can at least quiet his mind on this.

- Young Nisei who eventually volunteered for the MIS

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See below for quotes by and about Japanese Americans
in the Military Intelligence Service.