Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service During World War II

I have been waiting for this book to be published for years and it finally came out March 2007. I think it will be the best resource on the nisei who served in the MIS. Ted Tsukiyama just gave me a copy (Thanks Ted!) and it's going to be my holiday reading. :)

Book Description: At the start of World War, II the U.S. Army turned to Americans of Japanese ancestry to provide vital intelligence against Japanese forces in the Pacific. Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II tells the story of these soldiers, how the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) recruited and trained them, and how they served in every battle and campaign in the war against Japan.

Months before Pearl Harbor, the Western Defense Command (WDC) selected sixty Nisei soldiers for Japanese-language training. When the WDC forcibly removed more than 100,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, MIS continued to recruit Nisei from the relocation camps and later from Hawaii. Over the next four years, the school graduated nearly 6,000 military linguists, including dozens of Nisei women and hundreds of Caucasians.

Nisei Linguists tells the remarkable story of those who served with Army and Marine units from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Their duties included translation, interrogation, radio monitoring, and psychological warfare. They staffed theater-level intelligence centers such as the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section in the Southwest Pacific Area. In China, Burma, and India they served with the Office of Strategic Services, Merrill’s Marauders, and Commonwealth forces. Others served with the Army Air Forces or within the continental United States. At war’s end, the Nisei facilitated local surrenders of Japanese forces as well as the occupation. Working in military government, war crimes trials, censorship, and counterintelligence, the MIS Nisei contributed to the occupation’s ultimate success.

Author: James C. McNaughton is command historian for U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. He previously served as command historian for U.S. Army Pacific and the Defense Language Institute. He received a doctorate in modern European history from The Johns Hopkins University and is retired from the U.S. Army Reserve with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He has been working on this book for a very, very long time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Takejiro Higa on Hogen Fuda

Takejiro Higa is born in Waipahu on the island of Oahu in 1923. (Isn't he ADORABLE?!?)

He is the youngest child of immigrants Takeo and Ushi Higa. His father runs a small store, just below the Oahu Sugar Company Mill.

In 1925, the family visits relatives in Okinawa. Takejiro and his mother who is diagnosed with pleurisy remain while his father and siblings return to Hawaii.

His parents and grandparents pass away by the time he turns 12. An uncle raises him.

Takejiro talks of not being allowed to speak the Okinawan dialect in school:

"I was just like a regular Japanese student. [A]t home, I spoke Okinawa lingo, and in school, standard Japanese. In those days, we had a policy of trying to encourage everybody to speak standard Japanese. And if you speak Okinawa lingo in school, we used to have demerit tags, hogen fuda.

And it's a shame to have a hanging thing [hogen fuda] all the time until you find somebody who speak the Okinawa lingo, and then pass on. If I ever get one, I used to go behind my friend, kick him from behind. And then he'd yell back in Okinawa hogen [dialect]. I'd say, "Ah, ah, ah." So I report to the sensei [teacher], and sensei passed the tag to him. I guess I was kind of naughty.

So anyway, because of it - this was way prior to the war, of course - the Okinawans spoke so much their own language, when you go to Mainland Japan, they'll look down, like a lower-class of people. So the school policy was, if you want to succeed in your life, you got to master standard Japanese. To encourage that, they had the demerit system of högen fuda if you speak hogen at school."

Read the rest of Takejiro's story at:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sue Kobatake Isonaga

I took it for granted that I would go to high school and college. Reading Sue Isonaga's story highlighted how different things were in the 1930s and just how much I had taken education for granted.

Shizue "Sue" Isonaga is born in 1921 in Lahaina, Maui. She is the third of four children born to Gitaro and Toyo Kobatake.

Her mother is widowed when Sue is four years old. After her mother re-marries, three children are born. Sue's stepfather, Tomosaburo Uda, works at Pioneer Mill Company. He passes away when she is fifteen years old.

In Sue's words:

"When my stepfather died, I was still fifteen. I was finishing my eighth-grade class and I wanted to go to high school in the worst sort of way. But since my brothers, my older brother had to leave school, there was no way I could go. But I would say I was a good student and I just really wanted to [go to high school].

I think it broke my mother’s heart because she couldn’t do it, you know, allow us to go.

I wanted to go to school but I couldn’t go to school. I think I must’ve cried so much, I felt maybe if I cried long enough, my mother will give in but she never did. Because she said, “The two boys, enough.” You know, there, and besides, they needed me. So, I just accepted that.

[I would have gone to] Lahainaluna [High School]. I don’t know [the cost]. Public school, you know. There were some boarders who boarded from out-of-town and stayed there but they worked in the dairy or worked in the print shop or worked in the cafeteria, to make up for the tuition.

Well, [it was] not really cost, but, no salary, no money to bring home. You know, it would be on the family income. But then, there were many families like mine. Lot of children, so no income, so we have to all go out to work.

My brother just below me, he was able to go to high school and so did the rest, go to high school and finish. One brother went into trade school, so they all had their chance to go to school.

It was just, I was the point that couldn’t go."

Read the rest of Sue's Story:

Note: The lei that Sue is wearing in the photo is made out of CREPE PAPER!!! She said that they couldn't wear it outdoors because if it rained, the color would run and stain their clothes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project

I mentioned the Densho catalog on LibraryThing in a previous post. Densho is a Japanese term meaning "to pass on to the next generation."
"The legacy we offer is an American story with ongoing relevance: during World War II, the United States government incarcerated innocent people solely because of their ancestry.

We present these materials and related resources for their historic value and as a means of exploring issues of democracy, intolerance, wartime hysteria, civil rights and the responsibilities of citizenship in our increasingly global society."
The Densho website ( has some powerful stories and incredible primary source materials.

The Yasutake Story is worth a look:

Friday, December 7, 2007

Densho Catalog on LibraryThing

LibraryThing lets you create digital bookshelves and catalogs. It's a great way to connect with people with similar interests. It's been described as the world's largest book club.
"Last week, one of these simple, brilliant ideas got built..."
- The Guardian (UK)

I created a catalog of my personal library. Yes, I really do own over a thousand books. Yes, I have read most of them. Check it out:

While browsing around, I stumbled across a catalog created by Densho. As of 12.07.07, it has 981 items. Most deal with Japanese-American issues. I share 21 works with Densho. :)

This is an amazing catalog and a great resource. Worth browsing through!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Yoshiaki Fujitani

Yoshiaki Fujitani is born on August of 1923 in Pauwela, Maui. He is the second of eight children born to Kodo and Aiko Fujitani.

Educated in Japan, Kodo is a Buddhist minister from Shimane-ken.

Considered a "potentially dangerous enemy alien," Rev. Kodo Fujitani is arrested on April 28, 1942. He is held at Sand Island until May 23, 1942. Rev. Fujitani is sent to Lordsburg, New Mexico (June 18, 1942 - June 14, 1943), where he refuses repatriation to Japan.

He is then imprisoned in a Department of Justice (DOJ) Camp in Santa Fe (June 14, 1943 - November 14, 1945). Despite this, Yoshiaki volunteers to serve in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).

On furlough during training at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota, Yoshiaki visits his father in the Santa Fe DOJ Camp. In the photo to the right, Yoshiaki had his father Kodo stand on a rock so the son would not be taller than the father, a sign of respect.

Read Yoshiaki's Story at:

Note: A book is being written about the men imprisoned in the Santa Fe Department of Justice Camp. More information provided later. An interesting story is that these were educated men (priests, teachers, community leaders, etc.) - one of them translated the Geneva Convention into Japanese and went from camp to camp explaining the rights and protections the Geneva Convention granted to the prisoners.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Remembering Stanley Akita, 100th Infantry Battalion

The first time I talked to Stan Akita, I was totally played by him.

Claire Mitani, the 442nd RCT Veterans Club Archivist, told me to call Stan and ask about the memoir he had written in the 1950s about his experiences as a POW in Germany during WWII. He told me that he only had a high school education and maybe it wasn't "good enough" for publication.

So I rush to tell him OF COURSE I would read the manuscript and OF COURSE I would see about publishing it as part of his story on the HI Nisei Story website. The manuscript, Stalag VIIA, was very well written with incredible details but I realized that I had read it somewhere before. It was already published in the book, Japanese Eyes, American Heart!!

Stanley was like that - very, very sharp and a rascal. There was always a twinkle in his eyes, especially when he was pulling one over you.

I began talking story with him and even joined his wine group at the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Clubhouse on Thursdays. The only rule was that wine had to be under $5 for the bottle.

At his house, Stan had the most amazing Grand Cru wines from France that we would drink and talk story. A lot of his stories centered around food and wine, a reflection of his love of both.

He talked about growing up in Honomu on the Big Island of Hawaii, catching frogs to eat or smoking out wasp larvae to fry with shoyu and sugar. On Saturdays, he would take a bucket to pick out maggots in the manure piles to take home to feed the chickens. Of course, we would discuss how a maggot fed chicken vs. the chickens we eat today differ in taste.

Stan talked about being a POW and having to eat sawdust bread. During the war, there was a shortage of flour, so the Germans used "tree flour" or sawdust in their bread. I searched the web for hours and managed to find the recipe for Stan. We wanted to try to re-create the recipe but were unable to figure out how to get pesticide-free and edible sawdust!

German Black Bread Recipe
[The following ingredients are from the Food Providing Ministry in Berlin, Germany. It was labeled “(Top Secret) Berlin 24.X1 1941.]

50% bruised rye grain
20% sliced sugar beets
20% tree flour (sawdust)
10% minced leaves and straw

The grain should be sufficiently rotten to provide gases to allow the bread to rise. The pieces of sugar beets provide sugar to supply the yeasty rye.

Mix together ingredients to create dough. Shape into loaves and bake. A loaf should weigh 3 to 4 pounds.

Stan developed an appreciation of French cuisine from his war years. We began a search to find all the restaurants serving escargot. My friend Lock and I would go over to their house and cook dishes like veal tongue and cheeks for Stan and Yuki.

Yuki Akita passed away on August 9, 2007.

Stan passed away on August 27th. To the end, he was talking about how good sweet and sour cabbage or rafute (shoyu pork) would taste. The last time I saw Stan, he held my hand and squeezed it as he whispered to me, "I love you."

Stan was a dear, dear friend. I miss his stories and I miss seeing the twinkle in his eyes.

Please read his story:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

WWI: Experiences of an English Soldier

WWI: Experiences of an English Soldier is a fascinating site. It tells the story of Harry Lamin.

Harry was born in August 1887 in the East Midlands of England. In 1917, at the age of 29, he joins up as a private to fight in the First World War. During his service, he writes letters home to his brother and sister.

Harry's grandson is publishing the letters exactly 90 years after Harry wrote them. It begins with his first letter, written from training camp on February 7, 1917. The letters are released on the date it was written. Harry's story unfolds letter by letter and readers must wait for the next letter to learn Harry's story and his fate.

The 411: This site is fascinating and highly addictive.

Read Harry's Story at:

Monday, December 3, 2007

Building a Community of Memory

Ronald Takaki's book, Strangers From a Different Shore, had a passage that stayed in my mind for years:
"Writ large across the pages of history are the stories of individual men and women who populate this earth. It is not the stories of Presidents, celebrities, or the wealthy that cry out to be told but that of the “common” man or woman. Their experiences and their tales provide the framework for a “community of memory,” which in turn provides an integral key to understanding ourselves and our histories."
The idea of a "community of memory" is echoed at the Center for Digital Storytelling:
"Every community has a memory of itself.
Not a history, nor an archive, nor an authoritative record . . .
A living memory, an awareness of a collective identity woven of a thousand stories."
I have thought often about those stories crying out to be told. The project I'm currently working on, The Hawaii Nisei Story, is an attempt to "fill the silence."
The Hawaii Nisei Story, a Web-based exploration of the experiences of local Americans of Japanese Ancestry leading up to, during and following the Second World War, comprises the life stories of Hawaii-born Nisei veterans.

Some well-known, some less so, these stories – drawn from oral interviews with veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 1399th Engineering Construction Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service and the Varsity Victory Volunteers – are deepened, complemented and complicated by the seldom heard stories of the veterans’ wives and families.

Read their stories at: