Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco

Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco
Information Source for the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center

Friday, November 12, 2010

Movie Night: A Tribute to Veterans Day

This month's Movie Night at NJAHS was a special tribute to Veterans Day. In honor of this day, the featured film and program highlighted the extraordinary history of the Japanese American Military Intelligence Service. The guest speaker for the program was Cpt. Frank Masuoka USA (Ret.) who was part of this military unit of trained linguists.

The film, Prejudice and Patriotism documented the history of the Japanese American Military Intelligence Service (MIS). During the World War II, the US Army needed Japanese speaking soldiers to help translate and intercept messages from Japan as well as interrogate their Japanese prisoners of war. The MIS consisted mainly of Nisei, second generation Japanese Americans who were either part of the army initially or were recruited from the internment camps. If they came from the internment camps, they were taken out in secret to avoid conflict among the other internees.

The Japanese American recruits trained at the Military Intelligence Service language school (MISLS) in San Francisco, California and later in Savage, Minnesota when the school moved. At this school the Japanese Americans learned to speak Japanese or further increase their skills in the language. They also learned how to interrogate prisoners of war. Due to the Japanese speaking skills of the MIS, they were considered the United States Army's secret weapon against the Japanese. It is because of the MIS that the war was shortened by two years. Even though their contributions to the war were not found out till decades later, their service to the United States did not go underappreciated and they were honored years later.

After the film, Cpt. Frank Masuoka USA (Ret.) spoke about his experience in the Japanese American Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Masuoka originally grew up in Sebastopol, California and was relocated to the Amache, Colorado internment camp with his family after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Matsuoka already had two brothers who were drafted in the army and before he entered the Amache internment camp, Masuoka tried to join the United States army as well. He was denied entrance due to his Japanese ethnicity. In spite of this, at the end of 1942 Masuoka was able to volunteer to join the MIS after he passed the test. He spent six months at the school in Minnesota where he furthered his skills in the Japanese language and was taught to interrogate prisoners of war.

During the war, Masuoka saw three military campaigns: Saipan (Mariana Islands), Leyte (Philippines) and Okinawa (Japan). The Battle of Okinawa is considered one of Masuoka's military highlights. During the Battle of Okinawa, Masuoka and another interpreter entered a strongly fortified cave unarmed. There he was able to convince a Japanese Commander and his remaining forces to surrender after explaining and providing proof that Japan had surrendered. His skills in the Japanese language and knowledge of the Japanese psychology during this event allowed Masuoka to be awarded the Silver Star Medal in November of 1945.

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