During World War II, 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage were moved to internment camps throughout the United States. At the same time, 18,000 Nisei, second generation Japanese-Americans, served in the U.S. armed forces, fighting with units in Germany, Italy, the Philippines and India. They played a significant, largely unknown role in the Allied victories in Europe and the Pacific.
More than 6,000 Nisei served as Japanese-language translator/interpreters with the Military Intelligence Service. Following training at the MIS Language School (now the Defense Language Institute), the Nisei went overseas to conduct interrogations, translate intercepts, and evaluate and translate captured documents for Allied units.
With a broad knowledge and appreciation of Japanese culture learned from their parents, the Nisei were able to provide commanders with actionable intelligence throughout the Pacific Theater. Their service continued during the postwar occupation of Japan, when many Nisei were demobilized from service and became War Department civilians.
The wartime activities of the MIS remained secret until the 1970s, and since then these American citizens have increasingly come into the spotlight of World War II history. One of the most well-known of the MIS Nisei, Col. Harry Fukuhara, recruited out of an Arizona internment camp in 1942, has acted tirelessly to bring recognition to the MIS. Fukuhara was inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in 1988.
Between 1988 and 1997, eight additional Japanese-Americans were inducted into the MI Hall of Fame. Their names and accomplishments follow.
Sgt. Richard Sakakida, who later retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, was a counterintelligence agent in the Philippines. Captured when the Japanese invaded the islands, he served the entire period as a prisoner of war, but managed to funnel intelligence to American troops.
Chief Warrant Officer/1st Lt. Lieutenant Arthur Komori also served undercover in the Philippines and later monitored Japanese broadcasts from Australia.
Hisashi Masuda, like Komori, intercepted Japanese radio broadcasts and later served as a translator/interceptor for the Counter Intelligence Corps in Japan.
Col. John Aiso served as director of academic training at the MIS Language School.
Lt. Col. Gero Iwai was one of the first Nisei to serve with the Corps of Intelligence Police.
Harry Akune, an intelligence specialist, parachuted into Corregidor with the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team during the Allied invasion of the Northern Philippines in 1945.
Maj. Kan Tagami was assigned to the 124th Cavalry Regiment in Burma and later served four years as Gen. Douglas MacArthurâ€™s personal interpreter in Tokyo.
Master Sgt. Roy Matsumoto served as one of 14 linguists with Merrillâ€™s Marauders behind Japanese lines in Burma.
Members of the MIS were unsung heroes of the Pacific Campaign for decades but, in 2000, finally received the recognition they deserve when the secretary of the Army approved the Presidential Unit Citation for MIS members. MacArthur himself praised the MIS after the war, stating â€œNever in military history did an Army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement.â€
For more information, visit the Military Intelligence Service Research Center website, http://www.njahs.org/misnorcal/index.htm.