The 6,000 Who Saved A Million Lives and Shortened the Pacific War Two Years
This was written by John Motheral, editor of the Fort Point Salvo, the newsletter of the Fort Point and Army Museum Association. Volume 5, number 4, April, 1982.
Last November 1 they came back exactly 40 years from the day, November 1, 1941, when the first 58 of these Japanese-American soldiers and two Caucasians sat down on empty orange crates at Crissy Field, Presidio of San Francisco, and started a unique Military Intelligence School.
The "Yankee Samurai" came to open their first exhibition at the Presidio Army Museum. They were telling at last the story of the 6,000 Nisei of the Military Intelligence (MIS), superbly resourceful, courageous, loyal soldiers who served their country in every combat division and Army Corps, in every major engagement in the Pacific in World War II.
Aptly dubbed the "Yankee Samurai" by the late author Joseph D. Harrington, these were the men about whom General Douglas MacArthur's Intelligence Chief said: "They saved a million lives and shortened the Pacific War two years."
They were at Attu in the Aleutians, with the Anzacs who broke Japan's drive to take Port Moresby, New Guinea, and isolate Australia. They were at Guadalcanal, and up the Pacific Islands at Guam, Saipan, Tinian, in our return to the Philippines, at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. They served in Burma with Merrill's Marauders and also with the British. They were with General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell both in Burma and China. They were even in Europe before the war was over.
In battle they were as brave, as intrepid, as determined as our most decorated fighting unit, the "Go for Broke" Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team, serving in Italy and France. They envied the 442nd.
Many MIS men were decorated for valor too, but nobody knew about it, not even their families. For over 30 years, almost all their records were classified SECRET. The "Yankee Samurai's" most effective weapon, and it was tremendously effective in defeating Imperial Japan, however, was not guns and grenades, it was LANGUAGE! The Japanese language.
Attacking Japan's "Achilles Heel"
Because it is so complex and difficult to master, perhaps the most difficult in the world, Japanese Army officers in the 1930's openly bragged to our military attaches that their language gave them a virtually unbreakable military code. They had a point.
Up until about 1500 years ago, Japan had no written language. At that time, she adopted the Chinese picture-word system. Each ideograph was given a new Japanese meaning, but the old meaning also was kept. Throughout centuries more syllables were added to give the language syntax and grammar. Then Oriental nuances, shadings, subtleties, were cranked in until a single ideograph now may have as many as 25 different "readings." Military Japanese, due to its peculiar structure and form, is still more difficult. Little wonder Japanese officers estimated it would take 16 years of hard study to really handle their language.
Two American attaches who heard them were Lieutenant Colonel (later General) John Weckerling and Captain (later Colonel) Kai Rasmussen. On returning home they and others urgently recommended the establishment of a Japanese language school. War clouds were growing darker and the need to know Japanese was increasing by the day.
In September 1941, LTC Weckerling was ordered to get a school going at the Presidio of San Francisco. He had six weeks to locate teachers, find and reproduce texts for 60 students, get started on writing Japanese-English dictionaries and open a 12-month course (later cut to 6-months) in the world's hardest language on a budget of only $2,000. Incredibly, with the help of Bay Area language teachers, Akira Oshida and Shigeya Kihara, who gave their libraries as well as themselves, the school opened Monday morning, November 1, 1941 in an unused hangar at Crissy Field.
Chief Instructor was John Aiso, a young Nisei lawyer who had been drafted. He was a cum laude graduate of Brown University with a doctorate in Jurisprudence from Harvard who had taken additional studies at Chuo University in Tokyo.
About the time the school opened, Colonel Weckerling was transferred. His back-up, Captain Kai Rasmussen, an officer to whom challenges and obstacles were the breath of life, took over.
Japanese with a Swedish Accent
Arriving as an immigrant to America, unable to speak a word of English, Rasmussen was admitted to West Point two years later. Since World War II he has held the distinction of being the only man in the United States Army to speak Japanese with a Swedish accent.
But he spoke it, helped teach it, and recruited for the school in the Army, nearly all of whose Nisei GIs he had tested for language ability, in the Japanese relocation camps, throughout the Nisei community.
Of tremendous help were the Kibei, American born · Japanese who had been sent back to Japan for all or part of their educations. They could handle the language better than most Nisei. John Aiso was one of them. They proved to be fine teachers and expert MIS operators in the field.
Five weeks after the language school started, December 7, 1941, "AIR RAID-PEARL HARBOR -THIS IS NO DRILL!" thundered over the radio.
Who Were We?
Teacher Shig Kihara tells how he and his students reacted:
"The Japanese-American community was swept off its feet by tides and forces of a Titanic world conflict ... It was during this time of adverse darkness and confusion that MIS gave us the opportunity to search our souls for identity, for meaning, for purpose and faith. Who were we? What was right and what was wrong? What were our choices and options? What were we to believe in? Was there any hope?
"We did not have the benefit of time or resources for study . . . Our reactions were more intuitive than academic. There had to be conviction, character and courage. We had these. The dedication of faculty and students at the Presidio ... and the stellar performance of graduates in the field demonstrated the abundance of these qualities in our men.
In 1979, (author) Joe Harrington named it the 'Yankee Samurai' spirit.
"We lived up to the faith that General Weckerling and Colonel Rasmussen had in us and following the inspiring leadership of John Aiso, we taught, we studied, we worked, participated, contributed."
No Time for Taps
So determined were the MIS Language School soldiers they went right on working past their grueling 10-hour study day. Officers had to patrol barracks latrines, and turn off lights long after taps to force the men to go to bed.
Because of the panic, distrust and enmity churned up by Pearl Harbor, all Japanese on the Pacific coast were moved to relocation camps in remote parts of the west. Before the first dass was graduated, the MIS Language School also was moved from Presidio of San Francisco to a less hate-charged atmosphere at Camp Savage, Minnesota. Later, as Army and Navy demands for its graduates exploded, the school again moved to larger quarters at Fort Snelling, St. Paul.
In spite of their best efforts, nearly half of the first class washed out. The half that made it graduated in the spring of 1942 and went out in two teams, one to Attu in the Aleutians, the other to Australia. The latter jumped into the war as translators, interpreters, prisoner interrogators, as well as fighting men at a time when the South Pacific was a Japanese lake.
Nowhere could Japan's on-rushing tide be stopped it seemed. By May 1942, her forces had taken Wake Island, Guam, Makin, Hong Kong, Tarawa. They were landing in the Philippines, Malaya, Burma. Britain's sea power was swept from the Far East. American ships that didn't get sunk were running for their lives.
Two Secret Weapons Weigh In
1. The "Enigma" Code Breakers
The British had stolen for them one of Hitler's famous "Enigma" cipher machines and with it were able to read Germany's secret communications. Japan had bought one of the devices from Germany and was using it to encode her secret messages. With the aid of the machine in British hands, code breaking crews with General MacArthur in Australia and Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii were reading General Tojo's mail.
MacArthur learned in detail the Japanese plan for driving over the Owen-Stanley Mountains in New Guinea to take Port Moresby, the keystone of the Japanese strategy to isolate Australia.
Nimitz knew of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's plan for destroying the American fleet and capturing Midway Island, thus opening the way to Hawaii and probably the Pacific Coast.
The Battle of Midway opened June 14, 1942. Admiral Frank Turner, commanding the American fleet, knew exactly where and how he was most likely to succeed in ambushing the Japanese fleet. He did succeed! And gave the Imperial Navy its first thorough whipping of the war.
2. The Japanese Language "Yankee Samurai"
At this time our second unbelievably effective secret weapon was coming into play-the "Yankee Samurai." Nisei intelligence teams were with the Australians defending Port Moresby, New Guinea. They translated captured Japanese orders, listened to Japanese attacking on the steep Kokoda Track over the Owen-Stanley Mountains and fought in the line with the Aussies.
On September 16, 1942, the Japanese were forced to retreat back over the mountains. Although thousands on thousands of men were to perish before the end, Japanese troops were never to advance again in the Pacific War. From that day on it was retreat, dig in, fight and die.
Three MIS Centers--ATIS, JICPOA, SATIC
In Brisbane, Australia, September 19, 1942, 29 graduates of the Language School led by Major E. David Smith, formed the core of Allied Translation and Intelligence Service (ATIS) which became General MacArthur's eyes and ears.
The second main Intelligence Center was JICPOA (Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area), under Admiral Chester Nimitz, and the third SATIC (Southeast Asia Translation and Intelligence Center, was under General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell.
ATIS was the largest of the centers with 3,000 Nisei in service at its peak. They produced 20,000,000 pages of translations, among them some of the most important intelligence documents of the Pacific War.
1st Big Coup—Japanese Imperial Navy's Order of Battle
In the fall of 1942, a thick document was picked up, according to one account, in an abandoned Japanese lifeboat on the beach at Tulagi across Sealark Channel, from Guadalcanal: MIS "Yankee Samurai" Kei Sakamoto, Isao Kusuda and Shigeru Yamashita spent a month translating it. When they finished, they had given Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur the entire Order of Battle of the Imperial Navy! There were the call signs and code names for every transport and warship in the Japanese fleet and the call signs of each Naval Air Squadron and air station. There were some surprises: the names and descriptions of ships America didn't know Japanese had, plus a few new ship types. Our Commanders now had solid information on which to base the size and composition of American Task Forces; they also had an easy means of identifying where various units of the Imperial Navy were. This information of towering importance to the Navy was the work of three enlisted Nisei of the Army.
The pressure on Colonel Rasmussen at the Language School at Camp Savage doubled and redoubled: "Get more MIS men out here and fast!"
Japan's Army Order of Battle Found in the Bismarck Sea
In February 1943, General MacArthur's interpreter/ decoders in Australia or Admiral Nimitz' team in Hawaii came up with the word that eight Japanese transports escorted by eight destroyers were leaving Rabaul, New Britian for New Guinea.
General George C. Kenney, MacArthur's Air Commander, threw every plane he had, American and Australian, into the hunt for them. They were found. All eight transports were sunk and half of the destroyers. Three thousand men were wiped out!
Of even greater importance was a document found in an abandoned lifeboat from the sunken transport Teiyo Marn. It was an up-to-date copy of the Imperial Army Officer's list, a complete roster of 40,000 Army officers from General Hideki Tojo down to the lowliest Company Commander, giving each man's rank, the unit he was attached to, and the job he held. When the "Yankee Samurai" got through translating it, America had a nucleus of what every warring nation wants, the enemy's Order of Battle-what he has for troops. With that, our battle planners were able with increasing accuracy to identify where which Japanese units were and in what strength. MacArthur's use and updating of this material helps explain why he lost less than 100 men at the water's edge in more than 50 beach landings.
Rising Sun Sets for Admiral Yamamoto
Translation by MIS men of an intercepted radio message revealed that Admiral Yamamoto was coming down from Truk to Rabaul, New Britain on an inspection tour. He and some of his staff were flying in two Betty bombers.
Rabaul was at t-he extreme range limit of our P-38 fighters. They could spend no more than 15 minutes over the target and get home. General Kenny sent them screaming out all the way. They wasted none of their target time. Sighting the Bettys over Ballale Island, they shot them down and with them perished Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Supreme Commander of Japan's Imperial Navy, April 18, 1943. General MacArthur called this the one most singularly significant action of the war.
"Is There Not a Samurai Among You?"
In addition to translating, interpreting, interrogating, Language School men also served as "cave flushers." As American infantrymen rammed their way up the islands toward Japan, they could not leave Japanese hold-out soldiers or anyone else on their flanks or in their rear. So caves and pockets had to be cleared or dynamited shut. Trapped enemies had to be flushed out or perish.
On Saipan, after the enemy's last suicidal banzai charge was thrown back Bob Hoichi Kubo handed his .45 pistol to his Lieutenant and, unarmed, slid down a rope into a large cave beneath the sea cliffs. Japanese soldiers in the cave bitterly upbraided him for wearing an American uniform. "Is there not a Samurai among you?" he grated. Then he recited an 800-year old verse they all knew. It sums up the choice Samurai Shigemori Taira made when his father urged him to lead his forces against the Emperor. Taira chose the higher loyalty and fought for the Emperor. His poem which Kubo recited was:
If to kin I am true, then disloyal
To throne I would be,
If loyal to throne I would be, then untrue
To kin I must be.
The Japanese soldiers bowed, apologized and released 122 hostages. They were all bound by the same code. They understood then why the Nisei fought for America. It commanded their higher loyalty. It was their country.
For his life-saving action, Kubo was awarded the distinguished Service Medal.
Many other Nisei flushed thousands of defeated soldiers, frightened civilians and impressed laborers out of caves, burial vaults, thickets on the Marianas, in the Philippines, on Okinawa and other islands.
Prominent among the flushers was Terry Takeshi ("Guts") Doi who landed with the 3rd Marine Division on Iwo Jima. When the fighting eased a bit and cave flushing began, Doi would strip to the waist to show he had no weapons and crawl through cave after cave, calling to the hidden soldiers and civilians to come out and surrender or be sealed up alive. He was shot at many times, once a bullet knocked off his helmet. But he came through it all, saved many lives, and won the Silver Star.
"Z" Plan and the Marianas Turkey Shoot
Two of the "Yankee Samurai," Yoshikazu Yamada and George Keyoshi Yamashiro helped hand the Navy one of its greatest victories in the spring of 1944. Admiral Mineichi Koga had prepared what he called the 'Z-Plan" for the defense of the Marianas, Guam, Saipan and Tinian) which he expected would be attacked around the first of May.
On a flight from Palau Island to Davao in the Philippines, Koga's plane was lost in a storm. His Chief of Staff, in another plane, was forced down and was captured by Filipino guerrillas. In his brief case was a copy of the "Z Plan." Filipino runners got it to the coast and an American submarine rushed it to Australia. Then Yamashiro Yamada and other translators went to work on the meticulously detailed plan.
When Admiral Raymond Spruance set sail for the Marianas, he not only knew he had the greatest Armada ever gathered together-500 ships, 125,000 troops-he also knew how the Imperial Navy planned to stop him, with what and from where.
Spruance's 15 aircraft carriers led the attack. Their force of almost 1,000 planes blasted each outlying Japanese base separately. Within a few days the spider web of the Marianas defenses was swept away. And Spruance was waiting for the oncoming enemy carriers, ambushing them and their escorts with submarines posted along the route he knew they would take.
What followed was the great Marianas Turkey Shoot in which highly skilled American pilots so outnumbered their opponents they had trouble staying out of each other's way. Admiral Ozawa lost three aircraft carriers and 400 planes before running for Okinawa.
From that day, June 20, 1944, Japanese carrier aircraft were no longer a threat. Soon after the fall of the Marianas Prime Minister Hideki Tojo's Cabinet in Tokyo also fell and time was running out for Japan.
"I Shall Return"
On October 20, 1944, Nisei with four United States divisions hit the beaches on Leyte. General MacArthur had kept his promise. He had returned to the Philippines! And the "Yankee Samurai" had helped him tremendously in getting there.
Leyte had to be thoroughly mopped up. How desperate the fighting became is illustrated by the fact that after 55 days of hammering by three American divisions, the crack Japanese 1st Manchu Division had given up just four POW's; ·15,000 men had fought and died where they stood.
When that was over, our forces had to decide whether to go-all out to take the vital Ormac Valley or wait for reinforcements. In 51 hours without a break, Stanley Shinabukuro poured over dirty and bloodstained documents, drawings, letters, orders, reports, most of them off Japanese bodies. What he found out convinced MacArthur's field commanders that they could mop up without waiting for reinforcements. They did and the way was open to Luzon and Manila.
The foothold on Leyte was essential to cut off the enemy in the southern Philippines. Landings at Lingayen, north of Manila, served the same purpose. Luzon had to be cut in two so that General Tomoyuki Yamashita, "the Tiger of Malaya" could get no reinforcements. Manila had to be taken to deny him help from there. This would force him into a war of attrition he could not win.
The success of the Philippine Campaign hinged on Military Intelligence. Much of it came from Filipino Guerrillas who were very active. Most of the rest came from prisoner-of-war interrogations and translations done by the Nisei "Yankee Samurai." Their efforts here, as in every phase of the war in the Pacific, were so successful, General Douglas MacArthur was able to state with pride: "Never in military history did an Army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement."
Last and Bloodiest Battle—Okinawa
Okinawa was chosen as the staging area for the final assault on Tokyo. The battle raged for two months, up to and past the date of Japan's surrender.
Shortly after our landing, Dan Nakatsu, leader of the Nisei MIS team of the XXIV Corps, together with Kemichi Ota and Herbert Nishikira, translated a captured document, February 10, 1945, that predicted the Okinawa invasion right on the nose for April 1st.
"The Americans will make a feint at landing, but their real objective will be Kadena," the Japanese intelligence estimate read. They will aim for the air bases at Kadena and Yontan, then cut the island in two, one force heading north and the other south. All approaches, therefore, must be zeroed in by our artillery, and tactics planned to wipe out the tank forces."
The whole plan had been prepared by Colonel Yohara, a military genius sent from the Kwantung Army to help General Ushijima organize his defenses. They were well organized and the island was fanatically defended; however, our Commanders knew the defense plan as well as Ushijima did and this was a tremendous help.
Then another "break" came our way. Nisei teams headed by Dan Nakatsu and George Takabayashi translated a map that was taken off the body of a dead artillery officer. It was the Japanese Command's artillery map for all of Okinawa. Positions, ranges and bearings of all the island's gun emplacements were given and it had been drawn to the same scale American gunners were using. The United States map of Okinawa was highly inadequate. It had been made largely from B-29 aerial reconnaissance photographs. Most of the island's terrain was shown very roughly and there were many blank areas.
The Nisei translators made an English overlay of the Japanese map which was rushed to Hawaii for reproduction. Within 72 hours every US artilleryman on Okinawa had a copy and gunners could pinpoint any target. Victory, which had hung in the balance, was now made sure.
Wars End But "Yankee Samurai" Stay On
By the summer of 1945, Japan's cities, one by one, were being burned to the ground by American - bombers. And American might was poised to overwhelm her. Then two bombs, one dropped on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki, abruptly ended the war.
Most Americans came home shortly after the Japanese surrender on the Battleship Missouri, September 2, 1945. But many "Yankee Samurai" couldn't. Their language skills were needed perhaps more than ever. They flushed out war criminals, served with both prosecution and defense at war crimes trials, interpreted for our army of occupation, helped in many, many vital ways in the recovery of their wartime enemy, the land of their fathers.
In this brief account we have mentioned only a few of the spectacular contributions some of the "Yankee Samurai," made to our victory in the Pacific, there were many more.
However, a much larger group served at Army and area headquarters, some as far away as Vint Hill Farm Station near Washington, D.C. Here Nisei teams were translating radio messages intercepted in Turkey which the Japanese Ambassador to Germany was sending to Tokyo. The White House literally was getting the word that the German General Staff was giving to its ally before the Imperial Palace received it.
The "Yankee Samurai," who never got to the front and were almost eaten alive by the boredom of endless laborious translations, also served their country valiantly, indispensably. They won commendations as well as the men advancing with the armies, but the whole MIS operation had to be a secret. Japan's false belief that her language gave her an unbreakable military code had to be sustained. And it was.
Emergence of U.S. Language Institute
After the war, in 1946, the Military Intelligence Language School moved back to the west coast. It became the permanent U.S. Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, California where it has trained more then 70,000 military linguist in over 40 languages and dialects. Teachers Akira Oshida and Shigeya Kihara have recently retired from the Institute after long careers of great service to their country.
''YANKEE SAMURAI'' MARCH ON PRESIDIO
"What a dedication ceremony and reunion dinner ... Little did we ever dream that there would be a 'Yankee Samurai' exhibit in an army museum. Wow! Beautiful!" So wrote Shig Kihara, teacher, who met the first language school class November 1, 1941. He was thanking [all those who contributed to the success of the exibit.]
Master of ceremonies for the dedication on the Presidio parade ground was Henry Gosho who won the bronze star for bravery and the Combat Infantryman's Badge while serving with Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, and who recently retired after a distinguished career in the U.S. State Department.
He called on Colonel F. Whitney Hall, Jr., Presidio post commander who warmly greeted the veterans and told them, "I am delighted that you have returned to present the story of your most honorable service which began right here . . . The establishment of your Language School, which has grown into the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, is the most unique of the contributions the Presidio of San Francisco has made to our country."
Congressman Norman Mineta, of San Jose, who spent part of his youth in a relocation camp, spoke of the "Yankee Samurai's" courage and resourcefulness.
Next on the program was Oregon's Court of Appeals Justice, Robert Y. Thornton, himself a Japanese language student at the University of Michigan and a war time graduate MIS Language School at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling, a non-Nisei Samurai, no less.
"I became acquainted with these men in the Alaskan theatre", he said, "where a contingent of interpreters and interrogators arrived just before the landing on Attu Island in the Aleutians and I can remember my first impression. I marveled at the fact that they would volunteer to serve in the armed forces not withstanding that their parents and loved ones were confined in relocation centers back in the lower 48.
"And then as I grew to know them, and respect them and their indispensable contributions to the war effort, I learned something else that surprised me almost as much. Despite this great injustice to their parents these young men never complained about it. Not once did I ever hear a word of complaint or self-pity about this regretable chapter in our history in the wake of the anti-Japanese feeling that gripped this nation after Pearl Harbor…
"When their country needed them, they did not hesitate, even though risking their lives in fighting against Imperial Japan, the country of their parents and ancestors . . .
"Truly these men proved their loyalty and patriotism for all time to come, and I am exceedingly proud to have been associated with them in the United States Army in the Military Intelligence Service."
Brigadier General R.S. Young, chief of staff of the 6th United States Army responded saying in part: "Seven months ago, in early March 1981, I had the pleasure of speaking at the opening ceremonies of the Go For Broke exhibit at the Presidio Army Museum, dedicated to the Nisei soldiers in World War II. I am again very pleased to participate today in this ceremony specifically honoring the Nisei's soldiers who participated with the American troops in the Pacific theatre during that War.
"As we continue to bring to greater light, more and more aspects of the history of this country ... We realize what great contributions many people have made to our nation. In many cases, as with the Nisei soldiers a mere handful- of – Japanese American patriots made a monumental effort toward winning the peace against great odds ... And this was during a time when your mother's fathers, grandparents and other members of your families were being repressed in this country.
"As I stated last March at the Go for Broke ceremonies we must, however, regard the past as a time in history less enlightened than our own. In retrospect, we truly see that many of yesterday's deeds have been colored by emotion, prejudice, or unfounded fear toward our fellow man or our countrymen. I would like to believe that these past actions exhibited the attitudes of the time, and were attitudes which we, as a nation, have long since outgrown ...
I continue to be very proud of our nation and of our people because we possess that rare and unique humility and compassion to admit past faults, seek corrections, make amends, and ultimately give honor where honor is due."
On to the Army Museum
The ceremonies ended and the crowd walked through the sunny afternoon to the Presidio Army Museum. Within minutes it reminded one of the veterans of the Marianas Turkey Shoot-the place was overwhelmed!
Families stood in line to see a slide film showing their men in action. Many saw scenes of engagements they never knew their fathers and husbands had participated in. Every picture on the museum's walls, every map, every bit of memorabilia was carefully studied and veterans were everywhere explaining to their children where they were in some particular action and what it meant. All were delighted, seeing for the first time their own "Yankee Samurai" saga.
An Exhibition "That Couldn't Be Done."
Nobody believed that such an accurate and complete story of the "Yankee Samurai" which had lived almost entirely in the minds and hearts of the veterans themselves for 40 years could be put together in only 6 weeks. But it was!
With imagination, enthusiasm and hard round-the-clock work, our Presidio Army Museum Curator, Eric Saul, [completed the exhibit] as he had done it in producing the "Go for Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team Exhibit which is attracting national and international attention.
The "Yankee Samurai" presentation is not only a credit to our Presidio Army Museum; it is an honest, sincere tribute to as valiant and resourceful soldiers as any who served their country in World War II.
It was hard to close the museum in time for the reunion dinner.
Presidio Officers Club Captured
A gala evening it was in the club's packed ballroom. Veterans toasted veterans. Stories passed from group to group that some of the men themselves had not heard before. Old friendships were renewed and comrades who didn't come back were reverently remembered.
Master of ceremonies, Shig Kihara pounded the speakers table and introduced the keynoter, Lieutenant General, (retired) Robert L. Fair who was himself a graduate of the Language School in his GI days.
In paying tribute to the "Yankee Samurai" he focused on what was perhaps their greatest service of all when the guns stopped firing. He recalled that two transports a week sailed from Yokahama bringing our army home, but not all the "Samurai." Those were needed by the hundreds as interpreters, interrogators, translators, helping in a thousand important ways in the transition from war to peace.
Let no one think, however, that life with these Japanese-Americans was all grim duty and determination. The general also recalled they snatched what fun they could along the way.
Pok-A of the Ancient Samurai
They insisted on teaching young soldier Fair one of their favorite games which they said had been played by the original Samurai many centuries ago. It was called Pok-A (which turned out to be poker). "And did they ever clean me! I didn't need a bath for a week!" The general revealed "If Japan's ancient warriors had ever played Pok-A with their 'Yankee Samurai' descendants, they wouldn't have had a samurai sword to their names!"
A Tribute to the Military that Might Have Been Forgotten
John Aiso, now Judge Aiso, who led the faculty that taught the first language school class at Crissy Field, was called upon next. He paid a tribute in his remarks which might have been overlooked.
The Language School he felt gave the Nisei their first real entree into American life as equal citizens. He thanked the military "for giving us through the MIS, this opportunity" an opportunity Judge Aiso contributed to so very much.
And Another Alumnus of the First Class Returns
Down from Seattle, was Judge Eugene Wright, of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court, who was in the charter class at Crissy Field. In the summer of 1942, he took one of the first interpreter teams into action in the South Pacific. On hand to do more than pay a tribute to the MIS veterans; Judge Wright came to greet old friends and battlefield comrades. He was with them in the front lines, one of whom he called "the finest soldier I ever met."
Yankee Samurai Saga "A Lifetime of Service."
As the grand reunion drew to a close, Shig Kihara, took the microphone to tell his audience and everyone:
"In short the MIS (Military Intelligence Service) has given Japanese-Americans an identity, meaning, and purpose for action and accomplishment. Through our unique birth and our dual heredity and backgrounds of language and culture, we combine in ourselves the best of two worlds, the moral and spiritual values of the east and the principals of liberty, equality and justice of the west.
I, therefore, propose that our reunion is not simply a gathering of comrades and friends to reminisce about the past, but that it is a celebration of a lifetime of service, of citizenship, of honor, of pride and of membership in the Pacific family of man."
Unheralded Heroes of the "Yankee Samurai"
Although their names may not appear in any list of American military heroes, two officers will always be heroes to the "Yankee Samurai" of the World War II and they should be to us all. They are Brigadier General John Weckerling (RET) and Colonel Kai Rasmussen (RET).
These men literally created the "Yankee Samurai" at the Army Language School. General Weckerling established the school in the face of seemingly unsurmountable difficulties on November 1, 1941 at Crissy Field, Presidio of San Francisco. Colonel Rasmussen sustained it through its early crises, commanded respect for it from the start, led it through the turbulent war years, and met the ever mounting demands of the armed forces for its graduates. Neither General Weckerling or Colonel Rasmussen was able to attend the 40th reunion last November 1st, but both sent greetings full of pride and affection.
Said General Weckerling in part, "You have accomplished something both individually and collectively that commands great respect ·and admiration, not only in military circles but among the thoughtful persons in this country as well . . . Hold up your heads proudly-they were never down-and celebrate this date for it is truly one you should commemorate."
Colonel Rasmussen wrote the "Yankee Samurai": "On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Army Language School we are celebrating, I wish to extend my greetings to all of you but especially to the members and instructors of the first class at the Presidio ... your sacrifices and accomplishments made it possible for the recognition of language as a potential weapon against our enemy . . . you've paved the way for the language intelligence service to be accepted as a branch of our military service ...
"Since its humble beginning, in an abandoned hangar at Crissy Field the school has come a long way. Today the Army Language School known as the Defense -Language Instit1,1te is recognized as one of the finest service schools of its kind . . .
"I believe that your exhibit will go a long way in educating and making the American public aware of the 'Silent Arm of the Service' that contributed much to the winning of the war against Japan during World War II. For the first time many of them will learn and understand the undue hardships experienced and personal sacrifices made by the Japanese Americans on the home front as well as in combat.
"On this auspicious day my thoughts and best wishes will be with you all, not alone for the day, but for all time. I regret exceedingly that my health prevents me from being with you. May God bless you all."
A final word of appreciation to the founders of the Army Language School was spoken by "Yankee Samurai" Dan Nakatsu, whose translation work contributed vitally to our victory on Okinawa:
"General Weckerling and Colonel Rasmussen must. be given special honor not only for their prescience and leadership but for their steadfast faith in the Nisei at a time when the Nisei, in their darkest hour, scorned and suspected, really needed such trust."