Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: James C. McNaughton Interview
Narrator: James C. McNaughton
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: Monterey, California
Date: July 1, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-mjames-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

gky: Jim, for purpose of the tape, will you give me your name and then spell the last name?

JM: Sure. James C. McNaughton. That's M-C-N-A-U-G-H-T-O-N.

gky: And how would you like to be referred to? I mean, Command Historian, Defense Language Institute?

JM: Yeah, that'll do it. That's my official job title, Command Historian, Defense Language Institute.

gky: Okay, so you technically work for the army.

JM: Yeah, my paycheck comes from the army.

gky: How did the MIS school begin?

JM: The school began really in the spring of 1941, when the Japanese language specialists in the War Department Intelligence branch realized that war was looming with Japan and to fight Japan we needed more people trained in the Japanese language, and they did an inventory of personnel resources and they only found a few dozen officers, some of whom had already retired, who spoke Japanese to any extent whatsoever. So they went, that was the problem. The solution was to recruit Nisei and train them in military Japanese and then use them to do the heavy lifting of the translating and interrogating prisoners.

gky: How did they go, how did the army go about making that happen?

JM: They farmed that assignment out to the regional command on the West Coast, and that's Fourth Army, with its headquarters in Presidio San Francisco. So in the summer of 1941 the War Department directed General DeWitt, really directed his G-2 to organize a Japanese language school and authorized him to go out and find soldiers who were of Japanese heritage and recruit them into the school, so in July of 1941 Captain Rasmussen, then a captain, went up and down the West Coast, every place there was an army base, and examined these Nisei. He interviewed over a thousand Nisei, gave them a quick quiz on Japanese, and most of them he rejected out of hand. Over ninety percent had no, not only didn't know Japanese, but had no aptitude to learn Japanese in his opinion. What he did find, though, was a group of about sixty who, many of them Kibei, who had at least some promise of being able to learn Japanese. Remember they wanted a select group, and they wanted to be able to train them very fast, so they picked the cream of the crop that they could find on the West Coast, put 'em on orders to report to the Presidio of San Francisco no later than 1 November 1941.

gky: Meanwhile, what was happening in San Francisco to get ready for the language school?

JM: The, while Colonel Rasmussen was out on the road interviewing Nisei soldiers, back at the Presidio of San Francisco, Lieutenant Colonel John Weckerling was trying to get a school organized. He had to find two things. He had to find, number one, space, and the only space he could find was an old aircraft hangar down at Cressy Field, which was being used as a warehouse. And the other thing he needed was instructors, so he went out and found four civilian instructors who were able to teach Japanese. These were young men who were not yet in the army but were able to work as War Department civilians.

gky: And then how did they, he hired them -- oh, let me, let me go back a second.

JM: Sure.

gky: Colonel Rasmussen spoke Japanese, is that correct?

JM: Yes, he had spent two tours of duty in Japan learning Japanese. Now, the MISers that I've talked to tell me that his Japanese language was not that good. Most of them say they never heard him speak any Japanese. A couple of them told me he spoke Japanese with a very heavy Danish accent. He spoke English with a Danish accent; he was an immigrant himself. But he had learned some Japanese, as had John Weckerling. What really was the seed corn that started that school was the U.S. Army every year, in the '20s and '30s, sent two or three officers a year to Tokyo for the sole purpose of learning Japanese. They put 'em there for three years, gave them a private tutor, and their job was to learn the Japanese language. General Weckerling had done that, and Colonel Rasmussen had done that.

gky: So the command has been given, ready the school, he's got four instructors. What was it physically like, the hanger physically like?

JM: There was nothing. Fourth Army assigned the carpenter for a couple weeks to bang together some tables. They found some chairs from who knows where and put up some partitions. Part of the building was used as barracks space and part of it was used as classrooms, and the mess hall was, was half a mile away, so they had to dash there for lunch and dash back to the classroom. But Fourth Army headquarters was bursting at the seams during that time period. The Presidio of San Francisco was very crowded, and so there wasn't a whole lot of space, and these guys, I think, got the bottom of the barrel.

gky: Was there any thought given to, if war with Japan was to happen, Japanese Americans being on the West Coast?

JM: What do you mean?

gky: Japanese Americans were excluded from the West Coast after the war began, and so that would mean that the Presidio area, which was on the West Coast in San Francisco, would also be, Japanese Americans couldn't go there, so they would have to leave the school. Was there any thought given to that?

JM: Yeah, that's an interesting question. No, I don't think there was any thought given to that because I don't think the Fourth Army headquarters had any serious or detailed plans to do the evacuation much before Pearl Harbor. I think the Fourth Army plan was to do exactly what happened in the first few days after the Japanese attack, to go out and arrest suspected community leaders and, and that was an FBI operation, and the state police. So I don't think they, when they sited the school there at Fourth Army headquarters, I don't think it occurred to anyone that they might later have to move it, which is, of course, what happened. When the Fourth Army headquarters made the decision to remove all Japanese from the West Coast, that school couldn't stay, but I don't think that was anything they had anticipated before the war.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.