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

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<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.

<Begin Segment 2>

gky: You said they recruited four instructors.

JM: Yeah.

gky: And they had sixty students.

JM: Right.

gky: How did the students come to the school, and how were the instructors, how well versed were the instructors in Japanese?

JM: The instructors knew nothing about teaching Japanese. They knew Japanese. They had no experience as teachers. What they had was the leadership of John Aiso. Even though John Aiso had never taught Japanese, he was a very well educated man himself and he tackled that problem like every other problem he had encountered in his life, and he applied self discipline and energy and his own intellect, and designed that course. What they used was the Tokuhan readers that had been developed at the embassy in Tokyo, that was the, what was his name, the instructor at the American embassy, Naganuma, the Naganuma readers.

gky: You want to start that over?

JM: Yeah, yeah. What they had to start with was the Naganuma readers, which in fact they, they used the actual set of readers that Captain Rasmussen had brought back from Tokyo with him. These had been developed over a period of years by the Japanese instructor for the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Rasmussen brought those things back and handed them to the first four instructors, and they then had to actually copy them onto stencils, and that was the beginning of the curriculum.

gky: So what do you think the, what role do you think race played in this? Yes, they're Nisei, because of their ethnic heritage they had to be there, but in terms of race, you do have Caucasian Americans, or non Nisei, non Japanese Americans trusting, in a way, Japanese Americans, and you're talking about a war with Japan.

JM: That's right.

gky: It's sort of a complicated mix.

JM: It took a lot of independence of mind for people like John Weckerling and Kai Rasmussen to trust the Nisei students and the instructors, because they had to swim against the tide of prejudice that overwhelmed the rest of America, certainly the West Coast. They had to know these young men personally. They, after a period of weeks or months when they got to know these students and the instructors, they knew them as Americans, as patriotic as they come. But they had firsthand knowledge of the patriotism and loyalty of these young men, but their superiors didn't. People like General DeWitt had no firsthand knowledge of the Nisei soldiers. He was just going on the common prejudice that was prevalent in America at the time. So the few language officers like Rasmussen and Weckerling, who trusted the Nisei, were really exceptional, and they had to fight during the war to protect their Nisei. The army as an institution, the War Department, would've been very happy to discharge all Nisei, and a number of them were discharged, or if they weren't discharged after Pearl Harbor they were moved into inland posts and given menial assignments. The army didn't know what to do with them, but the Intelligence officers knew two things for sure. They knew, first of all, that the Nisei that they had as students were loyal and patriotic, and number two, they knew that the army damn well needed them, could not fight a war and win without the capability that those Nisei had, so they trusted 'em.

gky: Was it more looking like the enemy or being able to speak Japanese?

JM: What do you mean?

gky: For the Nisei to play a pivotal role in the war in the Pacific.

JM: What was critical was the ability to speak Japanese, the ability to quickly learn Japanese and to use it. Remember, it wasn't just the language capability. It wasn't just the ability to translate or speak Japanese. What the Nisei had was a real knowledge of Japanese culture and Japanese psychology, so they could use their own judgment when it came to interrogating a prisoner. Should they be tough with him? Should they go easy on him? Should they offer him a cigarette, or should they shout at them and make them stand at attention? They had a real knowledge of Japanese psychology because they'd grown up with Issei parents, and the Kibei had spent time in Japan, and they could use that. And no Caucasian who just sat in a classroom for a year could learn that kind of sophisticated understanding of the Japanese culture.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

gky: Will you talk a little bit about the role of the Nisei and the role of the Kibei and the differences, Kibei and, and maybe you can explain what a Kibei is?

JM: Sure. Yeah. Before the Second World War, the Pacific Ocean was a broad highway, and it was fairly easy to get back and forth. Steamships went back and forth a lot. The Issei, the men oftentimes could go back to Japan to get married and bring their brides back. Families living in the, on the West Coast or in Hawaii, they could send their children back to go to school, to live with relatives, and then come back again after a few years. It was, it was a broad highway. There was a lot of motion back and forth. Some people got caught on the wrong side when war broke out, unfortunately, so there's a sad example of a number of Nisei who were stuck in Japan during the war. By the official U.S. government definition, a Kibei was someone who had spent three years or more in Japan, so a summer study tour didn't make you a Kibei. What the Kibei really had, though, was an ingrained understanding of the Japanese language and Japanese culture. Some of the Kibei who were taken there as small children lost almost all of their English language capability, and some of the saddest stories are the Kibei who returned to the United States, let's say as teenagers or in their twenties, just before war broke out. They may have been born in the United States, taken back to Japan, taken to Japan at age one or two, spent their, all the way through their teenage years in Japan and then come back speaking hardly a word of English, but they're U.S. citizens. And those were really tragic because, frankly, the War Department couldn't really use them as well, because if you'd lost your English language capability you weren't much use to the army. But the Kibei really brought that special knowledge of Japan that was really important, not just to translate, but to understand what that document means. Not just to ask a list of questions of a prisoner, but to look at a prisoner, look him in the eye, look at his uniform, look how long his beard is, and say, "This is a private, he doesn't know anything," or to say, you know, "This is an officer who's pretending to be a private," or, "This is a university educated reserve officer and if we're nice to him maybe he'll tell us what we want to know." You can't learn that just sitting in a classroom. Some of the Kibei had actually gone through different levels of military training in Japan, so in some cases they knew the commands for left face, right face, charge. They knew the officers' commands, so the, there's a famous example of Kenny Yasui in Burma who went across the Iruwaddy River to a group of Japanese who were hiding on an island, and when he arrived on the far shore, ordered them in his best Japanese officer's voice to come out of hiding, to march out in front of him and lay down their weapons, and they did. And then he proceeded to tell them to lash together a raft, and he had them push him back across the river. He stayed on the raft and the Japanese soldiers, disarmed, swam and pushed him back across the river. And he got the Silver Star for that, but that's because he was a Kibei, he spoke Japanese, colloquial Japanese well enough, and he knew that if he treated those private soldiers like Japanese privates, that they would just respond, and they did.

gky: Talk about the role of the non Nisei.

JM: The War Department decided to organize a ten man team for each division, and then each team was headed by a Caucasian lieutenant. This lieutenant had two functions really, one was as the team leader, but the other one was to lend some credibility for the Nisei with the rest of the division staff. Remember, these guys were just arriving on the eve of the battle, arriving by airplane or by boat, and so some division commander and his Intelligence officer would just see these guys show up. "Who are you?" Well, it would be, that Caucasian lieutenant who would report in and say, "Sir, hi, I'm Lieutenant So-and-So. These are my guys." And the other officers may, the general may say, "Well, they look like Japs to me," and you had a Caucasian lieutenant who said, "Sir, they're all Americans, they've been through training at Camp Savage. Trust me, you can take my word for it." And then they got to work. I don't think they would've had that kind of credibility and acceptance in the beginning if they hadn't had those Caucasian officers.

gky: The same token, by the same token, you said earlier that the non Niseis made the Nisei role more valuable, the Niseis seem more valuable. They didn't compare --

JM: I'm not sure what I was getting at. Oh, yes, yeah.

gky: You were talking about Japanese Americans and learning...

JM: Yes. There's an interesting contrast between the language skills of most of the Nisei graduates of MIS Language School and the Caucasian graduates. Now remember, most of the Caucasian graduates had a one year introductory course at the University of Michigan before they went to Savage or Snelling, so if you really count their total training time they had eighteen months full time to learn the Japanese language. And yet when they went out into combat with the Nisei, who had only had their six months at Camp Savage, then the, it became clear how valuable the Nisei really were because in most cases the Nisei with just six months at Savage had much better language capability than the Caucasians. If the U.S. Army had flat out not used any Nisei we would've had to rely on a miniscule number of Caucasian language, Caucasian linguists of much less proficiency in the Japanese language, and we would've had to resort to what were the navy and Marine tactics, which was just bombs and flamethrowers until you kill 'em all, and that is a very, it sounds crude, but that's an inefficient way to win a battle, is just bombs and flamethrowers. The efficient way to win a battle is you find out as much as you can before you start shooting, and then once you start shooting you keep track of the other side and you find out, what unit are they from, what are their orders, what is their plan? Were they planning on attacking tomorrow or the day after tomorrow? What kind of equipment do they have? Do they have any tanks? Do they have any airborne forces? Remember, in the Philippines, the Japanese army actually used paratroops against the U.S. army, so you needed that kind of information and a lot of it to be able to fight smart.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

gky: Can you give me an idea of what the Intelligence infrastructure looked like during World War II?

JM: Sure. People talk about the Pacific Theatre. That's really a misnomer. In fact the Joint Chiefs of Staff divided up what we call the Pacific Theatre now into several different commands. I'll start in the Central Pacific, Admiral Nimitz, was the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Ocean areas in the Central Pacific. You had the South Pacific under Admiral Halsey. You had the Southwest Pacific area under General MacArthur. And then going all the way around, you had, on the Burma-India frontier, the China-Burma-India theater, which the Allies referred as the, to the Southeast Asia Command. So each of those major theaters had its own Intelligence apparatus. In Admiral Nimitz's Pacific Ocean areas there was the Joint Intelligence Center of Pacific Ocean Areas, JICPOA, which was a multidimensional intelligence center which did everything from radio intercept work to geographic intelligence, photographic intelligence, and it had a section of Nisei in the JICPOA annex translating captured documents. In the South Pacific you had a small intelligence center in Noumea on New Caledonia for the first couple years. In Australia, MacArthur had the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service, ATIS, in Brisbane, which in '44 moved forward to Hollandia on New Guinea and then in '45 into the Philippines. In China-Burma-India, gets a little more complicated, but there was a Southeast Asia Translation and Interrogation Center, SEATIC, in Delhi, and then in China itself there was another translation and interpretation center in Chungking, so -- and this is an important point -- some of the MIS Nisei went out with the frontline units and did the, the quick translation of captured documents on the battlefield and the initial interrogation of those prisoners while they were still fresh. But then behind the lines you had these large organizations that were almost like intelligence factories that took in thousands of pages of captured documents and took in hundreds of prisoners a few days after they had been captured, maybe a few weeks afterwards, and then looked through this mountain of information looking for those little nuggets that would turn a battle. For example, one of the documents that was found in New Guinea in 1943 was a book that the Japanese army had published which was the army officer list, and that gave the complete name and rank and unit of assignment of every single officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. What the Nisei did in ATIS was they took that list apart and they put every name and every unit on two file cards. They filed one by name so they had an alphabetical list, and then they filed the other half of the cards by unit, so for every regiment and division in the Japanese army, voila, they had a complete list of their officers. And the Japanese didn't tend to reassign their officers from regiment to regiment, so if it was Lieutenant So-and-So in the 37th Regiment here, then a year later he was gonna be in the same regiment over here, if the regiment moved. So that's how the Nisei could do that magic during interrogation. If they get a prisoner and the prisoner says, they ask him, "What is your company commander?" and he says, "I don't know," well then they could whip this out and say, "Don't lie to me. We know that your commander was Captain So-and-So and your regimental commander was Colonel So-and-So." And the, and the prisoners would think, "My god, they know everything, so why should I hide anything? They already know it all."

gky: Did the Intelligence infrastructure work well together? I mean, did, like did SEATIC work well with ATIS? Did, 'cause there was some...

JM: No, they really didn't work well together. That's part of the problem. If you go to the archives today you can find mountains and mountains of reports that they all sent to each other, and on the back page of each report it listed the distribution, so they were sending each other copies of all these things. JICPOA and ATIS, for example, were exchanging documents all the time, but they never really got it right. The problem is the difference in perspective between the commanders who are fighting the war, like General MacArthur and General Eichelberger in the Southwest Pacific, versus the staff who are thinking strategically, like, what island should we invade next? To the regimental commander, he's not thinking about what island to invade next. He's thinking about, where is that Japanese battalion? Is it on this hill or this hill over here? And the only way you can find that out is to go out, send a patrol out to capture a prisoner alive and interrogate him, find out, what hill are your buddies on? So for example, there was a document captured on Saipan -- actually there were tons of documents captured on Saipan in 1944 -- the folks at JICPOA didn't have time to go through them carefully. There was just so much, so a lot of it they packed up and shipped back Stateside for training purposes, of no intelligence value, and some of those materials ended up at Fort Ritchie, Maryland, where there was another intelligence center, PACMEARS, and there was a Nisei there who opened up one of these crates and looked through the stack of documents, and he found one particular document -- this was in October of '44 -- which was a report of a recent Japanese conference, a high level conference that spelled out in the minutes of that meeting where all of their major items of munitions were, where they were stockpiled, what they were short on, and how they had it all distributed. It was just a snapshot of the Japanese armaments as of the spring of '44, and if he hadn't spotted, that it would've probably just been shredded or burned, or just lined, lain completely unexploited, so every now and then you could find something of tremendous value.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

gky: Can you explain what the MIS was and the relationship of the Nisei to it?


JM: In early 1942 the War Department reorganized its intelligence division. They organized what they call the Military Intelligence Service. That was all Army Intelligence personnel, worldwide, who were not directly assigned to a regiment or division were considered part of the Military Intelligence Service, so that included a lot of intelligence disciplines, like translation interrogation, like radio intercept, like photo interpretation, the whole range of intelligence specialties. That's why when the Nisei graduated from the MIS Language School they were assigned to the MIS as Japanese language specialists, so the MIS had, had thousands of members worldwide.

gky: And how did the Nisei fit in this whole, this big thing, I mean, as a small piece of the puzzle on the West Coast dealing with the Pacific? 'Cause only three of 'em went over to Europe at this time.

JM: Right, there were several thousand MIS personnel in Europe, but only three Nisei. You're right, which is a good illustration of the difference. For a combat operation in the Pacific, normally a division would have an MIS team assigned to it, a division or a corps headquarters, for the duration of that operation. Some of the teams were able to stay with a division throughout the whole war, but others just got assigned for that operation, and then when the battle was over they went back to ATIS and spent sometimes several months there doing other stuff until another battle came up and they went back again. So they were never part of those divisions. They were always attached for temporary purposes.

gky: So they were on temporary duty. Why was the army the only branch of service that would even consider inducting Nisei Intelligence?

JM: It's always puzzled me why the army was the only branch of the military to take Nisei in World War II. The army for most of the war was the only branch of the military that had to use selective service. The air corps and the navy for most of the war were able to rely on volunteers, so the army was more democratic, if you will. They had to take all comers and had to use the selective service system, but more than that, I think it's a philosophic difference. The army had to actually go head to head with the Japanese on the ground. They had to get up close and personal with those Japanese army units, and you can't do that without getting that firsthand information, using that language capability, so the army, on the one hand, had to take the Nisei because of selective service. On the other hand, the army was the branch of the military which had to confront the Japanese military face to face. They couldn't stand off in an airplane or an aircraft carrier or a battleship and blow them up from miles away. They actually had to get in there and wrestle, get down in the mud and the jungles and fight the Japanese army, and to do that they had to get that firsthand intelligence, so they had heavy language requirements compared to the navy. The navy, for example, got most of its intelligence from intercepted radio communications, and that was low enough in volume that they, that the Caucasian linguists that the navy had could handle most of that translation work, and so that's how they tracked the Japanese navy. The army didn't have that luxury.

gky: At the same time, it is mostly Caucasians we're talking about. There were not many Hispanics in the army at this time. There were not many blacks. When blacks were in they were in segregated units.

JM: That's right.

gky: Was this, I guess, sort of a history of racism on the army's part, or was it a reflection of the times? Now we can speak in hindsight, but we've had the whole Civil Rights Movement in the '60s.

JM: Right. It was a transition time for America and for the army. The Nisei, like the African Americans, were allowed to fight in the army, but in segregated units. The army didn't want to get too far out ahead of American society. The, the watch word at the time was no social experiments. In fact, at the end of the war the Secretary of War recommended that the army not integrate. He said publically and explicitly that, that black Americans and white Americans would never work well together in individual units until such time as American society was no longer segregated. So it was a transition time for the army. The army couldn't get out too far ahead of, of the society at large. On the other hand, the army was the only branch of service that gave the Nisei the opportunity to show what they could do. They were shut out of the air corps almost completely, they were shut out of the navy completely, and the army was willing to give 'em a chance to show what they could do.

gky: So Douglas Wada was a, an exception in the navy. Although, he wasn't, as I understand it, he wasn't in Intelligence.

JM: He was prewar. Yeah, he was.

gky: He wasn't in Intelligence until after, I thought.

JM: No. No, I don't remember. I'd have to look it up in, in the '93 Hawaii book, but yeah, Douglas Wada was recruited by Naval Intelligence before the war to do intelligence stuff. But he was quite an exception and stayed in Hawaii. The local District Intelligence Officer in Hawaii knew him personally and used him just right within that district, yeah, but otherwise, no. It's interesting, the navy actually had some history going back earlier of using Issei. Just as Japanese men joined merchant fleets in the late nineteenth century, they joined the U.S. navy, as well, and several Issei actually lost their lives when the battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbor in 1898. Sometime a few years after that, as tensions rose between the United States and Japan, the navy reversed its policy, so for a period of probably thirty or forty years after that the navy didn't have a single Japanese sailor. Likewise, the army was really not much better. In the recruiting environment of the '20s and '30s the army did not allow Japanese to enlist. Interestingly, though, the army allowed them to take ROTC, and that was a very wise investment because those ROTC grads from University of California or University of Hawaii, some of them ended up in the MIS and some of them ended up as junior officers in the 442nd.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

gky: Will you talk about the MIS on the West Coast? So the MIS is the entire, entire unit. Can you talk a little bit again about the MIS being a, being much larger than the...

JM: Yeah. Everywhere the American army fought in World War II, it had Intelligence organizations and Intelligence personnel supporting it. So when the army attacked in North Africa in '42, in Italy in '43, and in France in '44, it had Intelligence personnel, it had MIS personnel who were doing things like, when they captured German prisoners they needed German translators and interpreters who could interrogate those German prisoners. Obviously, these were not Nisei personnel, but they were MIS. In the Pacific where the enemy was Japanese, the MIS needed Japanese speaking personnel, and that's where they used the Nisei.

gky: What do you think were characteristics that the Nisei or Kibei had to help them get through the war, and their parents, their sisters and brothers are thrown in concentration camps in the United States, some of 'em volunteered out of camp, some of them were drafted out of camp? How do you think they permitted that to happen to them, the characteristics, ethnic characteristics or cultural characteristics that helped them?

JM: When the Nisei students first arrived at Camp Savage or Fort Snelling, regardless of the attitude that they brought to the school, they were inculcated with a certain kind of discipline by John Aiso and the other instructors there. I think that was a real, I guess we'd say now, a character building experience, to put that kind of discipline on them, and it was hammered into them that they had to go out and do a good job, and they had to focus on what the army needed and not to worry about their parents and families in the camps and not to worry about what was even gonna happen to them after the war. So that's one, the experience of the school. I think once the MIS Nisei got out to the units and the places where they worked, they saw right away how valuable they were, and they could see the kind of information you could get out of one prisoner. And it was so frustrating to them that in battle after battle the American soldiers were really not very good about bringing in live prisoners, and this really bothered the Nisei terribly, partly just out of humanitarian concern, but also because they realized how important it was. And I think once the Nisei, if they had any doubts in the school, once they got out to the Pacific they realized that they were actually contributing much more than a rifleman up on the front lines. They were worth ten riflemen, or more. When the fourteen Nisei went out with Merrill's Marauders, General Merrill had no doubts about how valuable they were, and that's why he didn't want them out there as frontline infantrymen. And they sometimes got in trouble when they did that because they were risking their lives, and the attitude, once the generals found out about the MIS Nisei, they assigned 'em bodyguards and didn't want them out there on the front lines because they were too valuable.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

gky: Will you talk a little bit about John Aiso? You had said that this extraordinary, well educated young man from southern California came into the radar screen of the army. When, what did he do to prove himself? How did he become the director of programming and curriculum?

JM: John Aiso was from southern California, highly educated, Brown University, Harvard Law School, had trouble finding a job in an American law firm. He landed a job in New York City. Within a few months they had some business in the Far East and they sent him to the Far East. He came back from that disgusted at what he'd seen of the Japanese militarism and expansion in the mainland, and came back from that and got drafted. He had no business being a private in the army, but that's what the army did with him. They didn't know what to do with him, and when he was approached to join the language school as an instructor he was getting ready to be discharged. And General Weckerling, then Lieutenant Colonel Weckerling, made a personal appeal to him and said, "John, your country needs you." He had to make that appeal because John, because John Aiso, this young Nisei attorney, he was about to walk out of the army, and he made a decision at that point that he was going to, he was going to serve his country that way.

gky: So it was only because there was a personal appeal by Lieutenant Colonel Weckerling?

JM: Yes. This is a technical point of the minutia of army personnel history, but in the fall of 1941 the army had been drafting people for about a year. They were constantly changing the rules of who was eligible for the draft and who was not, and in the early fall of 1941 they changed the rules and anyone over the age of twenty-eight was to be discharged, and John Aiso at that time was in his early thirties and so he was about to be administratively discharged. He had a get out of jail free card, if you will, and was getting ready to walk. That's why John Weckerling appealed to him personally and said, "John, your country needs you." And John Aiso thought for a minute and no one, certainly no white man had ever said that this was his country, and that was the real turning point in his life. And this was just a few weeks before the school opened, and a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. John Aiso was a member of an older generation of Nisei, born in 1909, was, had a real different experience growing up, I think, in the teens and '20s than the Nisei that grew up maybe ten or fifteen years after him, so he was almost a transition figure between the Issei generation and the Nisei generation. Born in America, educated in America, no question, but he had some of the conservative social attitudes of the Issei, and frankly, I don't think he had much regard for these young, hell raising Nisei who'd grown up in Seattle or Los Angeles or the, or the dockyards of Honolulu, and they didn't much appreciate some of the discipline he tried to apply in the school. But he was almost an elder statesmen among the Nisei generation.

gky: How did he help make the school successful, Aiso?

JM: John Aiso provided the driving energy behind the school. It had Caucasian officers on top. The commandant was Colonel Rasmussen, but John Aiso was the spirit of the school. He's the one who disciplined the instructors. He's the one who gave the students reason to study, because if you didn't study you would have to face him, and he could discipline you, he could even have you court-martialed, or he could have you sent overseas. So he was the driving force behind the school. He was also able to appeal to the Nisei in their own terms. He was able to appeal to them about their parents. He was able to make it very clear to them that if they didn't produce, if they didn't serve honorably, that there would be consequences on their family, there would be consequences on their community, and he had no qualms about telling 'em at every opportunity that this is what we're fighting for.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

gky: When the school moved to Camp Savage, can you describe why it made the move and how it made the move?

JM: Yeah. In the spring of 1942, when the War Department and General DeWitt made the decision to evacuate all Japanese off the West Coast, the situation immediately became untenable for the school in San Francisco.

gky: Can you start that again, instead of saying "Japanese," say "people of Japanese ancestry."

JM: Yeah, okay. I mean, they're eighty percent Japanese citizens. Yeah, in the spring of '42, when the War Department and General Weckerling made the decision to remove all individuals of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, regardless of citizenship, that immediately became, made the situation untenable for the school because, of course, all of its instructors and all of its students were Japanese American, so they could not stay. So in the spring of '42 the commandant, Colonel Rasmussen, made a quick trip to the Midwest looking for some place to put the school, and after visiting several different locations came to Minnesota and somehow arranged a meeting with the governor of Minnesota, who was then a young Harold Stassen. And Harold Stassen offered him this CCC camp that was maybe fifteen miles south of Minneapolis along a road and a railroad line that was available, and Rasmussen took one look at it and said that's, that'll do just fine. It was remote. It was quiet. The presence of a few Japanese soldiers, Japanese American soldiers, was not gonna cause any great concern, and so he went back to San Francisco and they packed up the school and moved it.

gky: Only one class had gone through at this point, is that correct?

JM: That's right. They recruited one class of sixty students in summer of '41, and that was the class that had just started when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. They continued that class and graduated forty-five in May of 1942. At that point the army could've shut down the school. They could've said it was an experiment, it didn't work, we can't find any more students, let's live with what we have. But thanks to a few people, like John Weckerling, they kept it alive, they moved it, and then went out and recruited more students. The difference this time was, where could they find those students? Well, the students on the West Coast were being, potential students were being discharged, they were being moved out of the region. Even if they were already in the army, they were being moved to inland army posts, and then new recruits, well, the army had stopped recruiting Nisei and stopped allowing them to enlist. So that summer and fall of '42 Rasmussen had to go back to the War Department and get special authority to allow those MIS Nisei to enlist for the language school, because otherwise there was a total ban on Japanese enlistments during 1942.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

gky: We have seen this to be mostly a male story. There were, particularly towards the end of the language school, some women who were involved.

JM: Right. It's actually interesting if you look at that, that chapter that I just showed you this afternoon. I have a page or two on, on that. Army Intelligence at the highest levels was actually very interested in using women in noncombat jobs. From the very beginning when the Women's Army Corps was organized in '42 and '43, the, for some reason the language school initially was not interested in using Nisei women, and it wasn't until 1944, late in '44, that they organized one class of Nisei women who had joined the Women's Army Corps and put them in their special class at Fort Snelling. And they graduated shortly after the end of the war and as a group were flown to Tokyo.

gky: To do what?

JM: To be discharged immediately. [Laughs] Because MacArthur's headquarters had established an initial policy in the first few weeks of the occupation, right after the surrender, of not allowing any women in theater. And so the school, this is the story I've heard from people like Yaye Herman, the school trained them, graduated them, put them on an airplane, and they flew all the way to Tokyo. When they got to Tokyo the personnel officers there were aghast and said, "We're not authorized to have any WACs in the occupation of Japan," and this was, I believe, in January of '46, but what they did was they offered them all civil service jobs. And what Yaye tells me is they all then took voluntary discharge and took jobs as civil servants doing what they were gonna do anyway. That's the peculiarity of that particular story. Yes, the MIS did accept some Nisei WACs toward the end of the war, and they arrived shortly after the beginning of the occupation.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

gky: Can you explain how the school at University of Michigan and at the, the school at Fort Snelling, it was, it wasn't before Fort Snelling, was it, or was it when Camp Savage was going to Michigan?

JM: It was at Savage too. Yeah, let me take a shot at that. To get these Caucasian team leaders the army went out and began recruiting on college campuses to find, oftentimes what they did was they looked for Phi Beta Kappa's, and they recruited these men that they felt would have an aptitude to learn a foreign language and organized a special program at the University of Michigan. There they organized a one year course, which was a very intensive full time Japanese language course, to prepare them to go to Camp Savage. The first course started in January of '43. Several months into that first course the army was desperate for Caucasian team leaders for the first groups of Nisei that were going out, so they took about forty of the top students in that first class and graduated them at the six month mark and then sent them to Fort Snelling -- I mean, here I go, they graduated them at the six month mark, sent them to Camp Savage, so they arrived at Savage in the summer of '43. That's the first small group.

gky: Can you start over?

JM: Okay. [Laughs] I'm trying to get the dates straight. In the fall of '42 the War Department went out onto college campuses looking for Caucasian college students that they felt would have an aptitude to learn Japanese. They went through the lists of Phi Beta Kappa members looking for the best and the brightest of American college students who hadn't already enlisted, and recruited over a hundred of them and sent them to the University of Michigan, where they set up a special one year program, which was just an introductory course of intensive Japanese, to prepare them to take the six month course at Fort, at Camp Savage. So several months into that -- that began in January of '43 -- several months into that, the army became so desperate for Caucasian team leaders to go out with the Nisei that they skimmed off the best forty or so and graduated them at the six month mark in the summer of '43 and rushed them to Camp Savage. So the first Michigan graduates to complete the whole program came out in early '44, and most of them went out to the Pacific and joined Nisei teams that were already there. You know, "Hello, I'm your leader." Well, they'd already been through some campaigns on their own. That program continued to expand during the rest of the war, and those Caucasian graduates then went on to Camp Savage, and then after '44 to Fort Snelling, and there were hundreds in training at Fort Snelling at the end of the war.

gky: So they must've gone into the occupation?

JM: That's right. Yeah, many of them went into the occupation.

gky: Do you think that was a successful maneuver by the army, to recruit non Niseis to be the leaders of the Nisei?

JM: I don't think it was really successful if you look at the resources that they committed to do that. It would've been a lot simpler all around if they had just given the Nisei commissions. The army did that to other soldiers throughout the war if they had technical specialties like a foreign language so that they would, they could make them second lieutenants. But of course, because of their prejudice at the time, the army couldn't do that until the very end of the war. In the middle of the war the army allowed Nisei to go to Officer Candidate School, so a handful of them in the United States and in Australia were allowed to go to OCS and they got their commissions that way, but it wasn't until the very end of the war, in the summer of '45, as the army was planning for the invasion of Japan they knew that they would need thousands of linguists, they knew that each division that went into the invasion would need a team of Niseilinguists, that they finally said, you know, this is nonsense. We need officers and we can't get them by commissioning Caucasians, so let's commission the Nisei. So in fact, in July of 1945 the army commissioned, direct commissioned over fifty Nisei in Southwest Pacific and dozens more in the China Theatre, in anticipation of the invasion of Japan. And then, of course, the war ended a few weeks later, fortunately.

gky: There were also some Nisei who got battlefield commissions, like Phil Ishio at, over in ATIS.

JM: Right.

gky: So this policy of not commissioning any Nisei was relaxing towards the end of the war?

JM: Phil became a warrant officer. He was appointed a warrant officer in '43 and I think he went through the OCS program in Australia. I'd have to check on that.

gky: [Inaudible] told me he didn't ever go to Officers Candidate School.

JM: Okay, then he was probably one of the ones who got a direct commission in '45. That's when Harry got his commission, Harry Fukuhara, for example.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

gky: Let's see, after... you interviewed a lot of people. You've read an incredible amount on this. You read a lot of different kinds of stories of courage, of valor. How does that make you feel when you read about these, these people?

JM: I'm just amazed. For me, sitting in a quiet office surrounded by books and maps, I have the luxury of trying to imagine what it was like. And usually I can't imagine. Somebody like Hoichi Kubo who fought with the 27th Division on Macon in 1943 and then in '44 participated in the invasion of Saipan, he was involved in the combat, and so he knew what was happening on the front lines. He was just as much at risk of getting killed -- [bugle sounds in background] That's our five o'clock bugle. Want to stop for that?


JM: How do I feel? Sort of a Barbara Walters question. Hoichi Kubo was attached to the 27th Infantry Division. He fought with the same division in three campaigns. On Saipan in the summer of '44 he happened to interrogate a prisoner in the middle of the battle and the prisoner told him that there was going to be a gyokusai in the next couple days. Well, literally translated that means to "smash the jewel." A Caucasian linguist would've probably labored over that for weeks and never really figured it out, or would've looked it up in the dictionary and said, "Huh, what is this?" But Kubo, with his knowledge of Japanese psychology, said, gyokusai, that means they're going to, they're going to put everything in one attack. They're going to throw away everything, their lives, and try to destroy the Americans and drive them back into the sea in one bitter battle. So he interrogated that prisoner and took that information up to the regiment and to division and explained to them that there's an attack coming a day or two from now, and this prisoner had given him the exact time, so the Americans were ready. And it was a fierce battle, but the Americans knew it was coming. They had some warning. If they had not been warned it would've cost hundreds of American lives and turned the tide of that particular battle.

Several weeks later, after the battle, they were in the mop up phase, which could be just as dangerous as the main battle phase as well. They found in many places soldiers and some civilians who were hiding in caves, hiding in bunkers. They had no idea what the Americans were going to do. In fact, well, they knew what the Americans were gonna do, they knew the Americans were gonna torture them and kill them and rape them and mutilate them. They had this whole mindset that the Americans were monsters, so they couldn't surrender. They would rather die than surrender, based on what they'd heard about the American soldiers. So in one particular cave, the Americans found out that there were some Japanese soldiers in that cave who were holding hostage a large number of civilians, so what do you do? They tried calling with loudspeakers. They wouldn't answer. So Kubo volunteered to go in. He took his helmet off because he had been told, he knew that if he poked his head into the cave entrance and they saw a helmet they'd shoot at it right away. An American helmet was different from the Japanese helmet. So he hoped that if he poked his head into the entrance to that cave and they saw a Japanese face they wouldn't shoot, and he was right, so he went down into that cave alone. He had a pistol tucked into the waistband of his uniform. He brought in some food and sat down, introduced himself to the Japanese soldiers, and was quite honest with 'em. He said, "I'm an American soldier." He shared his food with them. He put his pistol out where they could see it and began talking with them, and several hours passed by and his buddies up on the surface had no idea what had happened. All they knew, it was awful quiet and he didn't come back out of that hole again. They didn't hear any shooting. They didn't know what was going on. And after a few hours he crawled back out of the hole again and said, "Hold your fire, they're gonna let 'em go." And the Japanese soldiers let over a hundred civilians go.

Afterwards, the division G2 asked Kubo, "How did you do it?" He said, "Well, I told 'em an old tale that I had learned in Japanese language school, and that was if I'm loyal to the emperor I can't be loyal to my kin. If I'm loyal to my kin I can't be loyal to the emperor." So the Japanese soldiers instantly understood where he was coming from, that he was an American. He might look Japanese, but he was born in America, he was loyal to the American flag, and they respected him. They saw that he respected them, and he explained, "These civilians, there's no reason for them to die. The emperor doesn't want them to die. Let them go." And so they did, and for that he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, for that act of bravery. That makes me feel amazed that he would have that kind of courage that he would be able to confront and have a conversation with several Japanese soldiers in this desperate situation and be able to, not just talk himself out of it to protect his own skin, but to protect and save all those civilians and convince the Japanese soldiers that, that civilians didn't have to die for the emperor. So that's a humanitarian act and a great, act of great bravery.

gky: What it sounds like to me is that, you're a historian, you look at things of times past, times that have gone by, and yet what you're describing are very, the very human part of war and very, a very human act that saves lives.

JM: I think you're exactly right. There's almost an intimacy of the battlefield that these Nisei experienced. They didn't have the luxury of treating the Japanese soldiers that they were fighting against as nonhuman creatures. They knew they were human. They knew they had feelings. They read their diaries and letters. Even after the Japanese soldiers had died they could read the soldiers letters and diaries. They cried over some of this stuff. They, if a Japanese soldier wrote a letter to his wife back in a certain prefecture in Japan, why, that Nisei may have relatives in the same village or the same prefecture. It was very, almost intimate. It was personal too, because for the Kibei, they'd been to Japan and they could imagine the suffering that the Japanese people were undergoing, and they didn't like the militarism. Hell, the Japanese people didn't like the militarism. So it was, it was very personal, yeah.

gky: I guess that's where, you don't lose objectivity, but you see things from a different point of view as a historian.

JM: It's hard to be objective about this because the Nisei were not objective when they were fighting. The Nisei put their hearts into this, and they were fighting with their hearts and minds. It was a personal battle to prove their own loyalty, but it was a personal battle to win the war. They wanted it to end. They wanted the suffering to end on both sides. They wanted it to be as quick and as low in casualties as possible. It was really personal for them, more so, I would say, than for the Caucasians who fought.

gky: That's interesting.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

gky: So you think that their cultural heritage did have a lot to do with how, how they faced the war, I guess.

JM: Many of the fathers and grandfathers of the Nisei were actually veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army, and those Issei veterans had a pride and they knew what it was to fight for their country. When their sons grew up as Americans, I think some of that Japanese tradition was passed on to them, that you have to fight hard for your country because it's your country. And they could say, "I fought for Japan back when I was a young man because Japan was my country, but you are an American, and you have to fight just as hard." And so the family pride now, all that weight was put on the Nisei to serve in the U.S. Army, to fight for the United States of America, so yeah, that's a cultural tradition. Yeah.

gky: But any more, any more than, say, German Americans were, had had that burden, or Italian Americans, who were facing the same sort of prejudice, albeit not a racial prejudice or not because their face looked different, or not that you could always tell?

JM: There's a big difference with the Germans. I think the American perception of Nazi Germany was, was set up so that we could distinguish between the Nazis and the Germans, so our wartime propaganda was we were fighting the Nazis, most of the time is, that's how it was phrased. Well, in Japan we were fighting the Japanese. We were fighting a war of nation against nation. So let's say fighting the Germans, every American knew that the Nazis were trying to destroy the Jews, and so they knew that there were Germans of Jewish descent who were fighting against the Nazis, so in their minds they could understand that you could have some Germans that were pro-Nazi and some Germans that were anti-Nazi, but it was very hard for the average American to make that distinction when they were thinking of Japan. It was a racial war much more.

gky: And has it been won?

JM: We're not fighting anymore. I don't know if it's been won. As a nation today, we, I don't know if the attitudes have completely evaporated. We're still very conscious. If you go into a restaurant and you're seated at a table next to a person of another race from yours, you're aware of it, but we don't, we don't fight about it as much anymore. We don't have laws about it the way we used to. We don't have laws that say who you can sell your house to or who you can buy a farm from anymore. So all that is gone away, so I think that's healthy, but the attitudes, part of it is the mystery. Part of the fear is mingled with the sense of mystery. If you don't know who those people are, they look different, they eat different food, they talk funny, it's easy to be prejudiced. But if your kids are sitting in a classroom with their kids, if your houses are side by side, if your kids are on the same Little League team or the Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops, gradually that kind of prejudice breaks down. I think we have to do something like integrate the armed forces first so that you no longer have a segregated Japanese American unit, and at first it's kind of tough because people are thrown into that social situation or that professional situation before they're ready. But then gradually they learn, hey, we're both rooting for the same baseball team and maybe even we both grew up in the same part of the state, we both like the same food, and pretty soon the fact that there's a facial difference melts away, for most people.

gky: We're talking about, you can talk about racism from a Caucasian point of view. Have you found very much in your research or in talking with the men or people you've talked with that there's also racism on the other side, on the part of the Japanese Americans?

JM: Americans of the World War II generation were taught to think in terms of roots, so that everybody knew that Polish Americans were this way, everybody knew that Jews were this way, everyone knew that blacks were this way. That's the whole way American society thought at that time, so yes, within those different racial groups they also had these stereotypes of other groups. You had Koreans who were living in America who didn't want anything to do with Japanese Americans. You had Japanese Americans who didn't trust black Americans. You had black Americans who didn't like Jewish Americans. It's just we tended to think in terms of racial categories at that time, so certainly different Asian American groups, well, I should say, Asian Americans as a category, was not a concept that, that most Americans used in the World War II time period. I should say that differently, actually. White Americans tended to think of, quote, "Orientals" as all the same, and what happened right after Pearl Harbor was there was an effort to educate the American public that there were good Orientals and not good Orientals, and you had some explanations about the difference between Japanese racial type and Chinese racial type. Well, that's because white Americans were just confused because up to that point they thought that Orientals were Orientals. It's all just Oriental food, right? So there was that kind of an education process going on, and so within the Asian American categories there was a lot of stereotyping going on. For example, right after Pearl Harbor, Filipino Americans lashed out at Japanese Americans just as much as Caucasians did. Korean Americans, in many cases, did not want to cooperate with Japanese Americans because of the long antagonism between Japan and Korea due to the long term colonial occupation of Korea by the, by Japan.

gky: Anything else you can think of?

JM: I think we've covered it pretty well, all that I can think of at this point.

gky: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for coming in on a Saturday, on your weekend.

JM: Oh, no problem. I have plenty of work to do.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.