Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview I
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 28, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-01-0027

<Begin Segment 27>

AI: Well, we'll continue on with that at another time in our next session. But before we get there, let me ask you just a little bit more about the language school.

PB: Yeah.

AI: The MIS, Military Intelligence Service Language School, was, as you mentioned, was set up specifically to develop the interpretive and translating skills...

PB: Right.

AI: ...that was needed by the U.S. military. Now, when you got that war order to go up to the school, you would, just explained how you really didn't want to do that and how it was ironic since you really didn't have the Japanese language skills when you started. Now, did you think that it was, or how did it strike you that first the U.S. government put you and others of Japanese ancestry in the camps and confined you. But then at the same time, then you were recruited, and clearly being Japanese and having Japanese language skills and some knowledge of the culture became very valuable. Did that strike you as strange or ironic, or how did you view that?

PB: Well, in retrospect after you study the history of why they had the school there and what we did and what we called the Military Intelligence Service, then you have to understand the military and how they came to this point. Originally the school was in Monterey -- I mean in San Francisco, a little army, it's a little island there at the end of the bridge. And they had a language school there where they were teaching Japanese. In fact, John Aiso, who was taken in the army and was a mechanic on a jeep, he knew Japanese, had studied in Japan. He was with that school. Now, the reason they came to the conclusion, part of the history of the MIS, is when they went into Kiska and Attu in Alaska to, to evacuate and to beat the Japanese troops up there, they found how valuable the use of the language and being able to monitor what was being said by the Japanese military. And they came to the conclusion that unless we have Japanese-trained people in the military that it would be just hopeless. And that was one of the reasons why, when we were evacuated, they said, "We can't have Japanese on the West Coast." They had to move the camp to Camp Savage. Now, Camp Savage was a CCC camp. It was real unmilitary place.

AI: Civilian Conservation Corps?

PB: Yeah.


PB: It was just an old place. Now, there were several reasons I understand they picked the place. One was that it was close to camp, Fort Snelling, which was a big base in Minneapolis. The other reason they didn't want us in Fort Snelling or any other major military base is because of the secrecy of what we were being trained and what we were being taught. And so they picked this Camp Savage. It was on a river, across the river from Minneapolis, and a small place. But that's why we were there. Now, eventually there was about 5,000 of us, I understand, that was sent to the Pacific. And by the time I got there, there was quite a number of 'em already overseas. They were serving in all the units that, well, from, well, even from Saipan. In fact, I have a friend that got the medal there. And the reason he did is he, he's a Mexican, but he lived with a family in Boyle Heights and got to know enough Japanese. So when he was in Saipan with the marines, he knew enough Japanese -- in order to get people to surrender, he would go into these foxholes and whatever, caves that were... and he's given credit, and the reason he got this Congressional Medal is he is credited with bringing in 1,000 Japanese prisoners of war. But this is where language was very important.

Now, if you want, I can tell you some of my exploits in my MIS experience overseas, but even with my very poor Japanese -- because I was not real good -- I was able to, by myself, go out and try to help the troops that I was with. And as I say, when I went overseas with the POW group in New Guinea, the first thing that we did was to set up prisoner of war camp. And when we had the Japanese that were taken as prisoner of war, they were put into these camps, and we could converse with them. That's when I learned that the Japanese soldier was never told that they were going to be a POW. You either give your life up, you don't give up at all. So when we talked to them and gave them a cigarette and treat 'em right and we asked them about their unit and what they were doing and what... the information was readily given to us. They never were told, as American soldier, that if you're captured, you give them your name, rank, and serial number and that's all. The Japanese weren't ever told that. So all during the war in the Pacific whenever we got prisoner of war and talked to the Japanese, we got information that was helpful down the line, saved our troop lives, made it easier for us to advance. All these things was a lot different between our army and the Japanese army. So the mere fact that we could speak the Japanese language made a lot of difference.

AI: Well, I'll ask you more about that in our next session.

PB: All right. [Laughs]

AI: Thank you.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.