Kazuo Yamane’s Key Discovery

Overlooked Document Revealed Locations of Japan’s Army Ordnance

Hawaii Herald, 7/2/93
By: Ben Tamashiro

Kazuo E. Yamane is the first to tell you that many Hawaii families had several sons who served their country in World War II. But Yamane just as quickly points out that few parents – like his own – had three sons who served in the Military Intelligence Service as Japanese language specialists, and a fourth who was an original member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Three Yamane brothers – Kazuo, Sidney Sunouchi (who had been adopted by a relative at a young age) and Kosei – served in different MIS areas. Kazuo, the eldest son, served in MIS operations in the Pentagon (Washington, D.C.), Pacific and Europe; Sunouchi in Japan and Korea; and Kosei in Okinawa. Another brother Akiharu, also served with U.S. occupational forces in Japan and Korea.

All brothers made contributions to the U.S. war effort, but a single feat by Kazuo later propelled his name to the forefront of MIS achievements when the department’s war-time secrecy restrictions were lifted.

In 1944, while assigned to Camp Ritchie (now Camp David) in Maryland as one of the first members of the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Section, Yamane made a key discovery. He was inspecting boxes of Japanese documents captured on Saipan which had been marked “Routine,” meaning Navy intelligence officers at Pearl Harbor had considered them as having

no significant military value.

“There were about 15 crates,” Yamane still recalls vividly. “There was one hardcover book about three inches thick which looked like a textbook. When I opened it up and looked at the table of contents, I was shocked. I only looked at it for about 15 minutes before I told my supervisor (Col. G.F Gronich) about it. I knew I had a really ‘hot’ document.” What Yamane had discovered was a highly classified inventory list of the Japanese Imperial Army Ordnance, which revealed the locations of munitions plants in Japan and their inventory of arms and munitions.

Col. Gronich immediately canceled all holiday leaves for his translation staff at Camp Ritchie, ordering them to give the document top priority. After the translations were completed, American planners in the Pacific added the newly discovered Japanese plants and caches to their list of targets for B-29 bombing missions. Yamane’s discovery also played a vital role after the war ended, as it enabled U.S. occupation forces to more easily locate and disarm the remaining Japanese weaponry.

When Yamane was discharged from the U.S. Army as a master sergeant in November 1945, it completed a military career that had taken an unusual diversion after his graduation from McKinley High in 1934.

After a year of working for his father’s business, U. Yamane Ltd., Yamane – his parents’ first son after seven daughters – attended schools in Japan until 1940. He graduated from Waseda University’s Commerce Department, where he was a member of the college’s compulsory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program. It wasn’t his introduction to military training, since he had also been required to participate in ROTC while a McKinley High student back home. Yamane had been exposed to military training by two countries who would eventually declare war against each other.

Yamane returned to Hawaii in August 1940 on the Tatsuta Maru, one of the last Japanese passenger ships to dock at an American port prior to the outbreak of World War II. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, becoming part of the 298th Infantry unit which defended Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack. He, along with other Nisei of the 298th and 299th outfits, was later sent to Camp McCoy (Wis.) – via Oakland –  as a member of the Hawaii Provisional Battalion.

“I remember there was a destroyer escorting our boat when we left Honolulu Harbor at evening,” Yamane now says candidly. “When morning came, it was gone! We were all alone and we knew there were Japanese submarines around. ”

Five month later, in November 1942, Yamane volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service Language School. Another six months of intensive Japanese language training at Camp Savage (Minn.) followed, after which Yamane was part of a four-man team assigned to the Pentagon. The other members were Jimmy Matsumura, John Kenjo and Seishin Kondo. They, according to Yamane, were the first nisei servicemen permitted inside the Pentagon after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Yamane considers his first MIS assignment just as vital as the discovery of the ordnance document. It was a year-long project consisting of cross-referencing and indexing – in both Japanese and English languages – names of the Japanese Army’s regular and reserve officers and their respective units in Japan, Manchuria, China and other areas. The information, which filled several dozen filing cabinets, was obtained after translating an oversized Japanese book found floating in debris near the Marianas Islands.

While on a special assignment to Camp McCoy, Yamane interrogated Navy Lt. Kazuo Sakamaki, the commander of the Japanese midget submarine who was captured at Waimanalo Beach in December 1941. To Yamane’s surprise, Sakamaki spoke fluent English and did not need an interpreter. (In1963, while touring a Toyota plant in Japan as a member of a City Bank delegation Yamane recognized Sakamaki, who was a department supervisor. Not wanting to possibly embarrass him, Yamane remained silent when Sakamaki did not notice him.)

Yamane was then assigned to Camp Ritchie in 1944, where he later made the discovery of the previously mentioned Japanese Army Ordnance inventory. In October of that year, he was part of a team sent to Europe on a secret mission.

Shortly after takeoff from a New York airport, he learned of his orders. The team was assigned to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), which was headquartered in Versailles, France. The mission: infiltrate Berlin with a British commando unit and confiscate documents from the Japanese Embassy and other Japanese government offices in the city. The mission was canceled when the Russians refused to grant them safety if they entered the city.

His MIS team was split up following the aborted mission and Yamane was sent to various cities in Europe for inspection and translation of Japanese documents. His travels included stops in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and finally, Yugoslavia, where Yamane celebrated VE (Victory in Europe) day. At Lake Como, a resort in Italy, he had a brief visit with his brother Akiharu, who was a member of the 442nd RCT’s Company K.

Yamane’s team was ordered back to SHAEF when the European war ended and after being discharged in 1945, he returned to the family business. With his father Uichi Yamane in poor health, Kazuo assumed leadership of the U. Yamane Ltd. umbrella of companies. Today, as board chairman of U. Yamane Ltd. and the Kalihi and Pearl City shopping centers – the flagships of the family enterprise – along with a chain of three bowling centers, Kazuo Yamane still downplays his wartime feats. Instead, Yamane hopes the racial discrimination which Japanese Americans suffered 50 years ago will not be repeated. “If I wasn’t loyal to the U.S., I could have thrown the secret book away at that time and no one would have known,” he emphasizes.

Thousands of American military servicemen are thankful that Yamane didn’t.