First Nisei sworn in as Corps of Intelligence Police agents
March 13, 1941
In 1941, most young adults were hanging out at the diner, watching Orson Welles in the movie “Citizen Kane,” and listening to tunes by Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. Adolf Hitler had been wreaking havoc in Europe for two years, but that seemed far away, especially from Hawaii, a U.S. Territory at the time. However, the lives of two young Americans from Hawaii, Arthur Komori and Richard Sakakida, changed dramatically on March 13, 1941. That was the day they were sworn in as agents in the Corps of Intelligence Police, or CIP.
While attending McKinley High School on Oahu, Richard Sakakida attended Reserve Officer Training Corps, being named cadet colonel in his senior year. At the same time, he studied his family’s native culture and language at the Hongwanji School in Honolulu.
He impressed his instructors such that they recommended he consider a career as a Buddhist priest, an offer he declined. He worked as a radio announcer and stock clerk for a few years after graduating in 1939. When he raised his right hand to defend his country, he was 21 years old.
Arthur Komori was a little older, about 26, in 1941. Also a graduate of McKinley High, Komori then attended the University of Hawaii, became well-known as an athlete and learned how to fly a plane. He had already attained his private pilot’s license when he got the call.
Komori didn’t know Sakakida, but the two young men shared a second-generation Japanese culture and both could speak Japanese fluently. This made them suspicious to the U.S. government. It made them invaluable to the U.S. Army.
At the CIP detachment in the Philippines, commanding officer Capt. Nelson Raymond made a special request for two agents to assume under-cover status and report on the activities of the Japanese community in Manila. He specifically wanted Nisei, American citizens born in the United States to Japanese-American parents, because their ethnicity, culture, and language ability would provide them the needed cover for such a dangerous, highly secret mission. Sakakida and Komori were recruited, sworn in by their former military instructor, and told to prepare to go on a secret mission, the nature of which would be revealed to them later.
They had no idea what they were in for.
A month later, the two men reported to the docks in Honolulu, having received no basic combat training, much less intelligence training. They were to board the U.S. Army transport ship “Republic” and sign on as crew, so as not to be identified as Soldiers.
Sakakida’s mother, who was not allowed to accompany him, had some words for her son at home. She said, “You are in the service. Your father was also in the Japanese army. But this is your country. Don’t bring any disgrace to yourself, and especially to your family. This is your country, and do your best. This is all I ask of you.” He would remember her words during trials he could not yet imagine.
In Manila Harbor, Sakakida and Komori were met by Raymond, who drove them on a short tour of the city while explaining their mission: They were to go undercover in the Japanese business community to find individuals who posed a threat to the security of the US Army and Philippine constabulary. They needed to come up with a good cover story as to why they were there, to secure employment, get acquainted with the Japanese businessmen living in Manila, and report any suspicious individuals to the military intelligence officer, or G2.
Raymond handed them an envelope. Instructions were to read and digest the contents and then destroy the envelope: The instructions were to set up a post office box as a communications point. They were to check the box twice daily to learn which predetermined rendezvous points they should use. At these points, they would be met by Raymond or Agent Drisko and taken by a roundabout route to the G2 office in Santiago where they could submit their intelligence reports in safety and receive new briefings.
Sakakida checked in at the Nishikawa Hotel and Komori at the Toyo hotel. They concocted a story that they had been crew members on a freighter but jumped ship when they got tired of working at sea. Komori embellished his story by adding that he was a draft-dodger, which put him in a favorable light with many of his targets.
Both men were successful in their intelligence-gathering efforts, despite their lack of training or experience in the field. They learned instinctively from Raymond’s implicit instructions and encouragement. Agent Komori later said that his commanding officer, “gradually instilled in us the techniques of subtle investigations and subterfuges in the best traditions of the CIP.”
Komori gained and nurtured friendships with the Japanese consul general, the chief of the Japan Tourist Bureau, the chief of the Japan Cultural Hall, the chief of the Domei News Agency and other leading Japanese residents of Manila. As an English teacher at the Cultural Hall, he learned fascinating information such as the probable route of a Japanese attack on Singapore.
Similarly, Sakakida found a job as a clerk in his hotel which gave him opportunity to inspect passports and help people fill out government forms. When the U.S. government froze all Japanese assets in the Philippines, the Japanese nationals living there had to file paperwork declaring their bank accounts and assets, often requiring assistance. Sakakida was very helpful in this regard, as he spoke both English and Japanese. One of the most pertinent questions on these forms concerned prior military service, a detail which the G2 found especially interesting.
After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, both Komori and Sakakida, who were only known to Raymond and Drisko to be members of the CIP, were arrested by Filipino constabulary on suspicion of espionage and thrown into Bilibid Prison. Convinced of the legitimacy of their mission, they maintained their cover stories, sure they would be rescued by the Army. And they were right — but their stories had only just begun.
Richard Sakakida’s amazing tale is recorded in a memoir entitled: “A Spy in their Midst — The World War II Struggle of a Japanese-American Hero.” Arthur Komori’s story is told in a book that was just published this year entitled: “Reflections of Honor: The Untold Story of a Nisei Spy.”
Both of these men were inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1988. To read about these and other MI heroes, go to the MI Hall of Fame website, https://www.ikn.army.mil/apps/IKNWMS/Default.aspx?webId=2180.