Military Intelligence Service

Kazuo Yamane of Kalihi was sent from Camp Savage to the then-new Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and later to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, where he scored a huge intelligence coup. While sifting through captured documents that had been deemed to be “of no military value,” Yamane discovered the Imperial Japanese Army Ordnance Inventory, a highly classified document that described all of the enemy’s armaments and their respective locations. The document provided priceless targeting information for America’s aerial campaign against Japan and for the occupation forces after the war. Yamane was the first of three sons from his family to serve in the MIS during the war. Another kid brother served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe.

Meanwhile, Herbert Miyasaki, the reluctant MISer from the Big Island, was assigned with Edward Mitsukado, a court reporter from Honolulu, to an experimental front-line unit. “Mitsukado and I were kinda forced to volunteer,” he recalled. “We did the selecting of the rest of the 14 guys; we didn’t know them then except that they were well-versed in English and Japanese. Nobody knew about this thing — it was hush-hush.” Miyasaki and Mitsukado assembled a team of interpreters who included Hawaii Nisei Russell Kono, Howard Furumoto, Robert Honda, Roy Nakada and Tom Tsubota, along with seven Mainland MISers: Roy Matsumoto, Ben Sugeta, Grant Hirabayashi, Jimmy Yamaguchi, Henry Gosho, Calvin Kobata and Akiji Yoshimura.

The Nisei language specialists crossed the Pacific with two battalions of infantry and jungle-trained volunteers — all assigned to the innocuously named “5307 Composite Unit, Provisional” — aboard the Lurline, a Matson liner that had been converted into a troopship. A third battalion of battle-tested veterans from Guadalcanal joined the unit at New Caledonia and Brisbane. The Nisei dispelled initial misgivings among some of their shipmates with daily lessons on the Japanese military and earnest camaraderie.

The 5307 Composite Unit trained in India. Then, in early 1944, the outfit went into Burma to conduct a campaign marked by secrecy and bold, swift strikes behind enemy lines. Its mission: destroy opposition strongholds, disrupt communications, and confuse and harass the enemy.

Nicknamed “Merrill’s Marauders” for the unit’s commanding officer, Brigadier General Frank Merrill, they received their supplies by air. It was necessary at times to clear several acres of jungle in order for the planes to successfully unload their cargo of a five-day supply of K-rations per man, feed for the pack animals, medical supplies and ammo.

The Nisei linguists were called upon to accompany reconnaissance patrols. Sometimes, they were sent outside the defensive perimeter to listen for information dropped by the Japanese, who conversed loudly, secure in their mistaken belief that the Americans could not understand a word of their conversations. On occasion they interpreted enemy commands, giving the Marauders the drop on enemy attacks.

General Merrill, who ordered the other Marauders to protect the Nisei linguists with their lives, would later say, “As for the value of the Nisei, I couldn’t have gotten along without them.”

More than 6,000 Nisei served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II, participating in every major U.S. military command and in every major battle in Asia and the Pacific. They were credited with saving thousands of lives and helping to shorten the war. And, after the fighting, the MIS linguists played a key role in the occupation of Japan, refuting propaganda vilification of Americans, bridging the two cultures and helping to build a modern democracy in the land of their fathers.

The MIS Language School eventually became the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California. Three buildings at the DLI are named for MIS Nisei who were killed in action in World War II: Terry Mizutari, Frank Hachiya and George Nakamura. Additionally, 10 Nisei are enshrined in the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

In spite of those tributes, the work of the MIS linguists was kept secret for many years: The government began declassifying their records only in the mid-1970s. In 2005, a Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to the Military Intelligence Service for “extraordinary heroism” against Japan in World War II. Still, most Americans remain unaware of their contributions.

“But I don’t feel bad,” Miyasaki recalled years later. “We were told beforehand that the type of work we were going to do would not be publicized. The American public was calling us ‘Jap’ and all kinds of names, and sometimes you felt like throwing down everything and saying, ‘To hell with you guys.’ But still, there was a job to do and somebody had to do it.”

— by Mark Matsunaga

Mark Matsunaga, a veteran journalist who worked for many years as a reporter and editor for the Honolulu Advertiser and subsequently as managing editor for KHON TV News, is the son of an MIS veteran. He has long been a student of Japanese American military history.

For more information, go to the MIS Veterans Hawaii website.