Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Sunao "Phil" Ishio Interview
Narrator: Sunao "Phil" Ishio
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: Washington, D.C.
Date: November 7, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-isunao-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

gky: The date is November 7th, year 2000. We're talking with Phil Ishio, P-H-I-L, Ishio, I-S-H-I-O. Phil, would you give me your name and the years that you served in the MIS?

SI: Yes. Well, my Japanese name is Sunao Ishio, and...

gky: Okay, let me try that again. Your name and the years you served in the MIS.

SI: I didn't quite hear.

gky: Your name and the years you served...

SI: Oh, okay. My name is Sunao Phil Ishio, and I served in the MIS from 1941 to the day that I was discharged, 1947.

gky: Okay. In 1947?

SI: 1947. And I was discharged from active service and I joined the reserves, I stayed in reserves until '75. So this is the length of service in the active duty and end of the service.

gky: Okay. So, do you say Sunao Phil Ishio, 1941 to 1947?

SI: 1947.

gky: Okay, but will you say that?

SI: Oh. Sunao Phil Ishio, 1941 to 1947, active duty and, well, active duty until '47, yes.

gky: So when you got out of the army, what rank did you get out as?

SI: I -- see, I got out of the active duty as a major.

gky: Phil, before you said that the MIS was considered a secret. Why was the MIS considered a secret?

SI: Well, there's several reasons for that. One, the -- we did, the army really didn't want to know, let the Japanese know that there was such a school. Two, they did not want to release the names of the students because they have relatives in Japan and they would suffer if they found out. The fact that we had a school was necessitated because the fact that there was no language capability within the military as a whole, not just the army. And we, I've read stories about the cryptographic side where they did not allow Nisei to work until around '44 in that field because of the fact they couldn't trust us. And imagine just how much information is lost because of that.

gky: You have said that you can't pick up a language and expect to be fluent in it. What do you mean by that?

SI: For all practical purposes, if you want to utilize the knowledge of a language, it's got to be at the level of someone who can read a newspaper and also be familiar with the idioms, local usage of the language, at various levels. In Japan you have various gradations of language, depending on your social status and your, whether you're talking to your boss or to your friend or to a superior officer. It varies. So all of that has to be taken into consideration and you can't acquire that within a short period of time. Now, what -- of course, I guess the general feeling was, well, all you have to do is get your dictionary and use a dictionary to translate. It just doesn't work that way, especially Japanese.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

gky: So, was there a difference say between Kibei, Nisei and Caucasian, or non-Nisei?

SI: Yes, there was a tremendous difference. The Kibei are those people who have spent their formative years, generally, say, the grammar through middle school, high school in Japan, so they have a very good basic understanding of the Japanese language and the customs, so forth. They are the ones who are capable of reading the so-called "grass writing." The Nisei who learned the language here in the States are very limited in their capabilities, so what we did was usually pair the Nisei with the Kibei as translators, and as translation teams. The Kibei were sometimes looked upon with greater suspicion because they had been raised in Japan. And this is one of the things that also that I looked into at the Archives is to -- what they did with Kibeis, their orders given out that the background of the Kibei should be studied and if they had certain things, such as belonging to certain organizations, they were discharged.

gky: Tell me, how did a Kibei and a Nisei work together on a team?

SI: Well, this is true especially in translation work where you have a, say a diary which is written in -- you got my blue eyes?

gky: You were talking about...

SI: Kibeis, yes.

gky: Kibei, Nisei, and sosho.

SI: So they're the ones who are capable of reading sosho, and so they were either sosho that translated -- of course, their English is not that good so the Nisei would brush up on the English. But that's the way they worked. Now there were quite a number of Kibei that worked by themselves, and, surprisingly, they did a lot of things that I think deserve a great deal more recognition than they've been given. For example, there is a fellow named Kozaki. Have you heard of him?

gky: Uh-huh.

SI: All right. He was an instructor at Savage, and, of course, he is a Kibei. He spoke with a definite accent and so forth. And he went out there pretty early, followed our group to New Guinea and assigned to an Australian division. As you know, the Australians did most of the fighting at that time, September, October. And was assigned to an Australian division, and he was wounded and -- but despite the wound, he continued to interrogate prisoners and translate and actually saved the life of one of the Australian officers in the course of the battle. So that's just one example. There are others. I don't know whether you've heard of... gee, I forgot his name. This guy was in Burma with the Merrill's Marauders, and he was a Kibei.

gky: Roy Matsumoto?

SI: Huh?

gky: Roy Matsumoto?

SI: Yeah... no, not Roy. No, it's another fellow. He swam across the river there to a group of Japanese soldiers who were holding out because he spoke fluent Japanese. He pretended he was a Japanese officer and he gave orders to them in Japanese, and they followed his orders. Do you remember that? Eventually he got them to build a raft. He got on the raft and they pushed him across the river and he captured about sixteen Japanese soldiers, and he got the Distinguished Service Cross for that.

gky: So in what way would you say that Kibei were valuable in a way that Nisei could not be, could not have the same experience?

SI: Well, mainly the language field. Of course there were some Nisei who were very good at the language and could do just as well in the translation field. But I think the Kibei were the ones who really made the difference, really. Of course, in my case, I also went to Japan but I was not really a Kibei in the sense that I was, but after I graduated high school, was first year in college, so I went directly into college there.

gky: That's pretty remarkable. Not having gone to Japan earlier in your formative years, being able to navigate the language and the customs.

SI: It's not too difficult. Of course, I spoke Japanese at home although it was not really the Japanese that was spoken in Japan, but, of course, I understood the language. Once you get into the university level, I majored in economics. Economics 101 in Tokyo is the same as Economics 101 in UCLA. Algebra in Japan is the same as algebra in the United States. The only problem would be if you take your entrance exam, you have to take some problems in Chinese classics and in the Japanese classical novels. Now those are -- otherwise, all the subjects are western: geography, physics, chemistry. And the lectures, once you get used to the terminology, that's no problem.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

gky: I asked you before about why MIS was considered a secret. Could you tell me again; you don't have your glasses on this time.

SI: Okay. Now, in military operations, the army that succeeds is the army that has the best information about its enemy. The best way to get information about the enemy is, of course, through material that is translated, say operation orders that are captured or interrogation of prisoners. Now, as I explained to you before, the reason that the army did not want that fact too well known is because of the fact that if the names of the students were leaked in the newspapers, the enemy would get a hold of the names and then track the relatives, and give the relatives a bad time or, in addition to that, we didn't want, America did not want Japan to know that we had the capability to translate their material. Now, the military attaches that trade in Japan came back with stories that the Japanese are very confident that no western nation would be able to understand their language to the extent that they could be used in operations. The orders that are given by the Japanese at that time were in very stilted, classical language and, therefore, sometimes very difficult to read. So that had to be overcome by training and, of course, in my case, I knew the language but was not familiar with the military terminology, so that helped out.

gky: So, Japanese was in essence sort of a code itself?

SI: Well, that -- I think someone said that yeah, they sort of consider it as a code in itself, which it wasn't for us because we had all the graduates of school in the field going over the materials, and also in the interrogation field. We had the Kibeis who knew the language and could speak it fluently. It would impress the prisoner because he could talk about his knowledge of the culture of Japan, the schools that he went to, knowledge of the military organizations like the -- Hiroshima has the 6th Division, which is a famous division. And, he could say, "I'm from Hiroshima where the 6th Division was," and all that, and, "Oh, that's so." Whereas, the Nisei would not have the depth of knowledge, you know. Although, many of the Nisei were very good interrogators. I'm not saying that they're not good, but they were limited in their capability.

gky: And what advantage did the Nisei have over Caucasians, or non-Nisei?

SI: What?

gky: What advantage did Nisei over non-Nisei in terms of Japanese language and customs?

SI: Well, strictly in terms of the language, I don't think they would have any advantage over the Kibei. It all depends on the amount of study they've done of the language. I'm very surprised, especially people in Hawai'i. They have good schools, Japanese schools, and this one fellow from Hawai'i who joined there by us who was selected as an instructor. So it's just as good as Kibei.

gky: What advantage did the Nisei have over the non-Nisei, over the Caucasian linguists?

SI: Well, Nisei, the advantage that they would have is that basically they've lived with their family and spoken Japanese and some, of course, have gone to school after regular school. And so they would have the basic foundation so that it would not be too difficult for the Nisei to grasp the higher points of the language that were taught at the school, whereas if you start from scratch, it would take months, years maybe.

gky: Most, or all the team leaders were Caucasian. When you started being trained at University of Michigan and then Camp Savage, how were they as linguists? How were they as your leaders?

SI: There were some, of course, whose parents were missionaries or businesspeople in Japan. I happen to go to New Guinea with a fellow who was from Oklahoma, but his parents had been in Japan as businesspeople so he could speak the language very well. But others, of course, with no such background, had a very difficult time. But they took the, selected the students from colleges with a greater facility to learn languages. Once they started learning the language, they did acquire a pretty good knowledge, but not as well as someone who had been to Japan. For example, take the military attaches. They would spend several years in Japan and they go back again, and in some cases, like one of the officers who went to the Japanese war college. I guess they were selected to do that, but there's some who I'd say have a pretty good facility in the language.

gky: What about accent? It's been said that the Nisei look just like the Japanese, but it seems like once they opened their mouth, you could tell because of the accent.

SI: Yes, that's true. They were told in a number of cases their language is lousy. [Laughs]

gky: When you first went to Japan, you went as an adult, correct?

SI: Yeah.

gky: How did it feel to see for the first time, and learn for the first time, about customs that you may have had in some form in your house, that you'd read about, but which you never actually experienced a whole country doing? How did you feel?

SI: Well, the -- I can only quote my little boy, when I took him to Japan first he said, "Look at all the Japanese here." [Laughs] That was my impression. The one good thing is that when you're a student, you wear a student's uniform and you look like everybody else, and you could go anywhere and they accept you. And the students are, student life, especially college life, was very nice and fairly easy going because it's based on the European system of once you get into the college in your upper division, as you call it here, say, in economics, you have one test a year. Either you flunk it or you pass it. If you flunk it, you take it over again. But during that whole year, it doesn't matter if you go to class or not. Once you get into school, you're in school. It's very easy to fall into the mode of life that the students have in Japan because it's a very easy life. Well, not easy life in the sense that you don't do anything, but you do study. In my case, I had to do extra study because it's hard to keep notes.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

gky: After -- you were in the army before Pearl Harbor.

SI: Yeah.

gky: Were you drafted?

SI: Yes.

gky: And when Pearl Harbor happened, what happened to you as a Nisei soldier?

SI: Well, the Nisei soldiers were immediately taken off the training. I was undergoing training at Camp Roberts. And then we were put on KP and other menial tasks. I was thinking to myself, you know, here they treat us as an alien, and they take us off training, they don't trust us so they put us on KP but I say that was a very foolish thing to do. If I wanted to poison the food, that would be the best way to do it. And there were others, Nisei, like Omato and Ohara Goto, I think, who were not put on KP because their names are not Japanese. They were on guard duty, fully armed, guard the perimeter, and we sort of got a kick out of that. But they finally caught on; they were all put into the same boat as we were.

gky: Did you have any, did you find any differences between Hawaiians and mainlanders?

SI: Yeah. Yes.

gky: What kind of differences?

SI: Well, I didn't encounter the Hawaiians in the army. I encountered mostly after the war, played golf with them, but they're very -- I told them to their face, I said, "You guys have a chip on your shoulders," because they sort of -- I think because they speak the way they do, they say, you know, they speak in pidgin English, I think they feel a little inferior. That was my impression. And I said, "You guys shouldn't denigrate yourself because of that, because I speak differently. This is the way I've been speaking all my life. I can't help it." But, it's apparent, very, very apparent, yeah. And this -- the army did have lots trouble with the Hawaiians. That's why I think they hesitated for a long time before they allowed Hawaiian Niseis into the MIS.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

gky: How did you get to the MIS?

SI: I was not tested. I was ordered to go to the school, so I guess they looked at my background.

gky: What was Camp Savage like?

SI: Well, Camp Savage, see, we were the first ones there. That was an old folks home and it was in very bad shape, so in June when we first went there, we had to clean it up. I had no idea what we were doing this for, then we later found out that it was going to be a school. They never -- when I first went there, they never told us this is going to be a school; you're going to be a student. They never announced that. They said, "Just clean the mess up." And then they started forming classes. And then I realized that this was a school.

gky: So, you hadn't heard anything about the first class, the class at the Presidio then?

SI: No.

gky: It really was a secret.

SI: Oh, yeah.

gky: What did your mother and your father say to you when they found you were going to language school, or did they?

SI: No, they didn't know where I was going when I first was inducted. Now, this is an interesting thing. You know Niseis, mothers and fathers, Isseis had a going away party for -- there were three of us who had been inducted. They had a party for us. The interesting thing is that my friends, the Niseis, they didn't think of having a going away party for us. It was the Isseis that did this. So I had to speak to them in Japanese and say, "Oh, yes, thank you very much," and so forth. And, of course, my father wanted to get this load that I had, presumed that I had in my mind about going to war against Japan. He said, "You're an American and you have to fight for your country." What is surprising is I've talked to many Nisei whose parents said the same thing to them. "Don't shame the name of your family. Don't bring haji." Haji is a very good term, haji; I always use that.


gky: The Japanese giving a going away party and how you were not to bring haji. Did you feel that, did you really feel that strongly that you were not to bring shame on your family or on your community?

SI: Oh, I certainly didn't want to. Someone who did something to bring shame, yeah. That's very firmly ingrained in me and practically all the Nisei that I know or spoke to. You just don't do it.

gky: Are there any other Japanese values like that that you felt you really had to live by, live in terms of your life and how it reflected on the entire community, not just on you?

SI: Well, of course, you -- the whole idea of haji is that you live a proper life and don't do anything that would bring shame onto the family. That, I think, is very firmly entrenched in most of the Niseis that I know. I think that the fact that practically every Nisei that I know of has gone to college, even though their parents, you know, are not that well off. They ingrained in us the fact that we have to have college education, so we were sent to college. This, I hope, is instilled in my children too, because I like to have, I like to know that the children's children, and so forth, and so forth, would carry on this tradition.

gky: When you were shipped out, did you know where you were going?

SI: No.

gky: So you guys don't know, you're just going somewhere?

SI: Well, we shipped out from San Francisco, so it's obvious we were not going to England. But we were on a converted liner and we left San Francisco harbor and went to -- one destroyer escort. After the first day, the escort left us and we were on our own because we were dependent on our speed, you know, to maneuver.

gky: So when did you find out finally where you were going?

SI: On board ship they announced that we were assigned to I Corps. I Corps is, well, actually, the only U.S. corps that MacArthur had, and they were already out there, and the corps, because this is two divisions, the 32nd and the 41st. So I said, "Well, we're probably going to Australia." That was true. Went to Australia from there and went into New Guinea.

gky: Did you know you were going to be eventually assigned out, you know, that it would not be all of you serving together, but that you would be serving on a team of ten?

SI: No, we didn't know that.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

gky: Gee, sounds like you were really kept in the dark about everything.

SI: Oh, yeah. That's the army, especially the Intelligence. The only time that we found out that we were with I Corps was when the G2 I Corps, who was a West Pointer, lined us all up and said, asked us if we knew the Japanese language. We were the special class, you know. We were the best of the whole group, and then he then asked each one of us, "Can you read and write the language?" Then after that, he said, "You guys have been promoted to sergeant, and MacArthur's policy is that you've got to work up to your rank, so you're busted down one grade." So they busted us down. That was a very, very happy occasion then. [Laughs]

gky: Gee, it seems like kind of demoralizing to have that...

SI: Well, they did it. Also, most of the field officers did not understand the value that we represented. Like if you talk to some people who were in the South Pacific, they didn't know what to do with us, driving trucks.

gky: So, in other words, you had to prove yourselves?

SI: We had to prove ourselves, yes. We knew what we could do. We had to prove, we had to let the officers, the intelligence G2 know exactly what we could do. They were not aware of it. I may have told you this before, but the first thing I did when I went to, was able to get into New Guinea, was they had documents lying there and I picked them all up and took out all the military identifications and lined them up and commanders and so forth. I gave it to 'em and he said, "This is the first time I've seen anything like this." He said, "I want you to continue this." That was a first what you call Order of Battle Information, very firm information that they got. And they had no, at that time, no real collection, organized collection, of this material. The GIs would pick up a document and put it in the pocket. But then we got the CIC to issue an order that all documents picked up must be turned into the G2, so they started sending it back. Now, the Japanese felt that we had no capability to translate this material, so their security indoctrination was very slack in that area. So if you overrun a command post, headquarters, there would be documents lying around they could translate. I think, eventually, towards the end of the war they sort of realized they shouldn't do that.

gky: Can we go back just a minute to the going away party you had? Did anybody ever say to you, "You should fight for Japan"?

SI: No. See, to me, what surprised you was that it was the Isseis that had the party for us. I was in Japan during the period, of course, they were at war with China, and they have these, I guess, farewell parties for the soldiers who are conscripted. They say, "Banzai, banzai." That's what I thought of. I hoped they weren't going to say banzai and go to war. [Laughs] But that's what I thought of. I saw quite a bit of that in Japan.

gky: You really felt then that this is your country and you serve America even though you all had had your rights taken away?

SI: Well, not -- see, in Salt Lake, there was not that, the discrimination and prejudice that there was on the West Coast. Salt Lake, I went to school, and I never had an occasion to have people show any prejudice against me. I was a member of the football team and I played, well, we got along with everybody, and it was only after I heard about the situation in California. And also, when I first came back, what hit me most was, see, my uncle was in the antique business. He had a shop on Grant Avenue. So I came back in 1945 from the Philippines and landed in California. So, I said, "Well I'm going to San Francisco." I was a lieutenant, at that time, wore a uniform. I went to Grant Avenue, walked up the street and the shop that my uncle had, somebody else had some pet shop, or something like that. But then I see Chinese wearing, "I'm Chinese" sort of thing, and I'd go into a bar and order a drink. They say, "Oh, you must be Chinese." I'd say, "Hell, no. I'm Japanese American. We got a thousand of us in the Pacific fighting and it's about time you guys learned that we are fighting for the United States against the country of our forefathers." I guess I got a little boiled, but I still get boiled when I hear that.

gky: You said before that some of your team leaders, when you were assigned to teams of ten, didn't speak English very, I mean, didn't speak Japanese very well.

SI: Right.

gky: Now, you could have done any kind of sabotage. I mean, you could said, instead of this unit and this is what it's called, you could have said something about the United States, or something; who's to know.

SI: Oh, that could have been great opportunities. If we felt that we -- of course, there weren't any people like that that would have done any of these things, or the Kibeis, that felt that way. It was sort of a... to me, it was ridiculous because the officers assigned to lead the teams that they were supposed to check our work, and quite a few of them couldn't do that. And some of them, especially some of the navy officers that came through, I was on a panel testing them, they could barely speak. They were older. And I said, "By golly, well, I think the navy's fooling itself if they think that these officers could do any translation work."

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

<Begin Segment 7>

gky: Talk a little bit about what it was like to interrogate someone. What kinds of things go through your mind?

SI: Well, in the early days, in '42, you see the situation was such that -- New Guinea is a big island, sort of like east to west, and so the north shore was where most the Japanese troops were lined up. And they were being supplied from a base called Rabaul and we, of course, plastered that base to the extent that all they could do was send submarines and barges at night to send in supplies, send in replacements. So, for a long period of time, the Japanese troops, which is the 18th Army under General Adachi, was not in the best of shape. People had no medical supplies, no food, they're starving, and they're desperately trying to get together, coordinate some way to combine someplace. Of course, that was one of the main jobs I had to try to find out what they're trying to do. But when we did get prisoners, some of them would say, "I was lying out there wounded for days and days, the bugs and insects crawling all over me," and they're emaciated, and had dysentery and malaria, so, what we do is we help them by saying that, "You're going to be treated well. You're in a military field hospital and we're giving you the best medical treatment we can. We'll give you food and cigarettes," and they were very, very cooperative. When you talk with them, some of them were sort of half conscious, but we knew their names and their organizations, so you speak his name in Japanese and open his eyes, you know, startled, that he's hearing his name in Japanese. These guys, once they understood that what we tried to do was help them, we're not trying to torture them in any way, and we got tremendous information from a lot of them.

gky: It seems like there was a terrible fear of being tortured or beaten.

SI: Yes, yes. But we allayed that fear pretty early, especially ones who would -- now, if you got an air force pilot who was healthy, you know, and full of spirit, they were a different category because they still felt that they had to -- now, I never interrogated one of those fellows because I was just with the army. But from the experiences that people like Hadate and Steve had -- as a matter of fact, Steve Yamamoto was with me most of the time up the New Guinea coast, and he was doing most of the interrogation. I was in charge of all the translation work. So he had a bunch of these Japanese prisoners, and every time we captured the food supplies, special navy food supplies, they'd have the prisoners cook their food for them. That was much better than the stuff that we were getting from the army.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

gky: When you were in battle sometimes, and you had kamikaze pilots coming at you, what would you think about, because you could be the next person to die? What would you think when you looked up in the sky and you saw all these pilots coming at you?

SI: Yeah, well, it is, it is very unnerving. From Hilandia, they formed one of the biggest convoys, I was on that, going into Leyte with the 6th Army, so as far as you could see there was ships. About the second or third day we were out, you could see the kamikaze planes. They sort of go round and round in circles. I always stayed on deck, and every once in a while one of them would drop down, and you'd wonder whether it was going to hit you because you can't tell which way it's going to turn. And when they drop into the sea, they say, oh, they felt relieved. But, incidentally, when I told this story to a military historian, he said, "Well, they couldn't have been kamikaze planes." I said, "Well, I don't know what they were; they weren't flies." He said, "Yeah, but the Japanese airfields were all plastered up in the Philippines, so I don't know where would the planes come from." I said, "I don't care where they came from, they were up there." So he still doesn't believe that there were any kamikaze planes up there.

gky: How do you tell a kamikaze plane from other kinds of planes?

SI: Well, you know what the purpose of the kamikaze plane is.

gky: Why don't you tell me.

SI: Well, these are suicide pilots who will ram the plane, the planes are full of bombs, ram the plane against the ship and blow it up. That's the mission. So when they take off from their base, they drink the last cup of sake. As a matter of fact, there's fellow named Hasegawa, I may have told you this, who was a navy kamikaze pilot. He was shot down there at Okinawa, he was saved by one of the destroyers at...

gky: Callaghan.

SI: Callaghan. That was the name of the destroyer. And he was so impressed that he is the head of a very large company in Japan. But what he did was organize an exchange program for young people, the Americans in Japan, there'd be about three exchanges. The last one was this summer. They had the exchange, you know, where the navy museum is on Pennsylvania Avenue? They have a navy statue there. Well, they have a big auditorium. That's where they had the program, exchange students. About six American students go to Japan and about six Japanese students come here. This guy wrote his story as being a kamikaze pilot, and he gave me a copy of that with pictures and everything. The ceremony they have before they go out, this is their final flight. So I have a pretty good idea, you know, at least from the Japanese navy point of view. Of course, the books that I've read, they were going to play a very major part, the kamikaze pilots, because they would have the, Kyushu, southern part of Kyushu. They have about ten or twenty divisions there, plus these pilots.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

gky: Something else the MIS did was translate documents. What kind of documents would you consider important that you translated?

SI: I would say operation orders were the most important, and then there are diaries. The Japanese soldier writes everything in his diary and, as I say, their security indoctrination was far different from ours. We were not allowed to keep anything about our unit or what training we had, things like that. But these diaries, the first day that they're conscripted, they would write everything down, where they take their training, where their commanding officer was, and then when they joined a unit, they would put the same thing, "I joined this unit and so and so is the commanding officer," so forth, so forth. So one of the most important documents would be an individual diary.

gky: Did you consider them, I don't want to say personal, but did they help you to know the Japanese better?

SI: Oh, yes.

gky: In what way?

SI: Well, they would write their most innermost thoughts, so if they were scared, for example, you know, when we went into Leyte, which is on the southern part of the Philippines, Japan set down about nine convoys of troops directly from Japan down to Leyte. And, of course, because of the fact that we had broken their code, we knew exactly when they were coming, so most of them were blasted out of the water, but one or two got through. But in the diary that we had from one of them, explains the suffering. Day after day they're bombed and they're -- it's a futile effort, and it's very sad to read some of these diaries.

gky: I've read some of these diaries, some of them that said, one of them said, so and so died of illness, so and so died of illness, and every day was someone new had died, died of malaria, died because he drank water too fast.

SI: Yeah.

gky: It's so sad.

SI: It is sad and I think, well, in a way, for us, it was very fortunate that they allowed the soldiers to keep these diaries, because this is one of the best source of information that we had, and also in the war crimes trials. They would write things about what they did. We got the diary of a sergeant, I think, warrant officer who had cut off the neck of a prisoner, and in explaining it, it had his name. So, Anderton, who has a photographic mind, remembered that name and remembered the fact that when the prisoner came in he knew who it was, so we got him on that war crimes. Well, that's one of the ways that we used their diaries.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

gky: Another document that you translated was the Z Plan, and there were only two Nisei involved in that.

SI: Yeah.

gky: So, was your knowledge of it by what you read and what you've done some research?

SI: Yeah.

gky: Will you describe to me what wound up happening with that, how the Z Plan got translated?

SI: Well, as you know, there were two Niseis who were on the translation team, and there was Anderton who was an executive officer to Mashbir and Bowers was the translator, and the other fellow, Bagnall. The story that I got, I don't know whether you've heard this, but, you know, the combined fleet was the fleet, the Japanese combined fleet was the fleet. And the commander in chief was a fellow named Koga, and his exec officer was named Fukudome. Now they had planned to move their headquarters from Palau to [inaudible]. And on their way, they're on two flag boats, and the both of them crashed in a big storm. Koga was killed, but Fukudome and his staff, about eleven staff officers, survived, and they were captured by Filipino fishermen and taken ashore and then turned over to the guerrilla unit that was headed by a fellow named Cushing. So Cushing sent a cable back to, a message back to Brisbane, saying that we have eleven staff officers and one who seems to be a very high-level officer with a briefcase of documents. Apparently, there was one fellow, a Filipino, who had gone to school in Japan, so was able to do some reading. I don't know how true that is, but that -- he went through the documents and realized they were very important, so then Mashbir cabled back and said, "Well, we're going to send a submarine out to pick it up." So a submarine picked it up and brought it to a place where they could have it shipped to Australia by plane. So that's how it got to ATIS. So when Mashbir realized what it was, he organized this team with Anderton and he said that they will work after hours so that the other people would not get suspicious of what they're doing. So these guys, when they did a translation, they worked the whole day and then they'd go back and work on this document. They did this in fairly good order, and then they translated the whole thing. The document, according to one version, the documents were returned after they were photographed and returned to the Philippines, and I understand they were turned back to Fukudome. I don't know how true that is.


gky: We were talking about the Z Plan.

SI: Yes. Well, as I say, I wanted to look into the section which caused some disagreement in translation. I wanted to get it from Rocky, not Rocky but Yoshikazu Nabata and check it out against the Japanese.

gky: Why do you think it was a significant document for the United States to have translated?

SI: Pardon?

gky: Why do you think it was a significant document for the United States to have translated? How did it help us?

SI: How'd it help us? Well, at Midway, the Japanese naval air was pretty well decimated, and what they wanted to do was to have what they called the one decisive blow. And in order to do that, they had to devise a plan so that they would maneuver, if they got in contact with the American fleet, they would maneuver the engagement in such a way that they would take advantage of what strong points they had. Now, their strong points were, one: they still had some pilots who were land based, who were not carrier trained in certain areas. Then they had, of course, they had a limited number of aircraft carriers so they had their other surface craft. And so the plan was, originally, they had certain belts, areas, of defense, so called. But this was designed to maneuver the whole thing in such a way that they would take advantage of their strong points and strike one decisive blow against the American fleet. That, in essence, is just the gist of it.

gky: What other documents did the Nisei, did the MIS, translate that were significant?

SI: Well, there were a number of documents. One was the inventory of the Japanese equipment. And this located the storage of different types of weapons and the number and so forth. The interesting thing is that that was sent back from the Central Pacific with no translation at all. It came to PACMIRS and a fellow named Yamane, Kazuo Yamane, is the one who found it. So when that was discovered, then everybody was put on the translation of this document because if we were able to locate the inventory of the Japanese arsenals, which they did, they hit most of them. And also, after the war, it would serve as a point of examination of Japanese weapons.

gky: How did you feel when you heard about, or actually maybe you never heard about this during the war. Did you ever hear that a Nisei translated this document, or we found out such and such thanks to a Nisei during the war?

SI: Did I?

gky: Yeah. Did you all hear that other Nisei were doing these translations and finding, you know, working little pockets of intelligence, or not?

SI: Well, yeah, of course. I was in the MIS. But I don't understand the question.

gky: Did you, were you hearing about what other MIS guys were doing in other parts of the Pacific or here, back in the States?

SI: Well, no, not in the States. I knew pretty much what they were doing. I was in what we call the Southwest Pacific, which was under General MacArthur's command. And, of course, I knew pretty much what they were doing, mostly New Guinea and then in the Philippines.

gky: How did it make you feel when you heard that a Nisei translated this, or you knew that a Nisei had to have been involved in the translation?

SI: Well, I felt that we were doing a good job. Another very important document was the army directory, directory of army officers. This was picked up -- I forgot the location now. Anyway, it was picked up and it was only about a year old, and this was around 1943. And our Order of Battle information of the Japanese army was really lousy, nothing. It was useless. So when we picked this up, everyone was put on it, and we spent about three or four days just concentrating to get this out. You know, Japanese names are very difficult. They have peculiar readings for some of it, so they have a dictionary, Japanese name dictionary, that even the Japanese have to use it to find how you can read a name. So we had to translate that, but then when we didn't know the name, we gave what we call the Chinese telecode number for each character, they'd put that on. And this directory gave the name of the officer, including reserve officers on active duty, the location, the unit, the training, and so forth, and we sent this directly to the Pentagon which is built by that; and they set up a special OBT, Order of Battle Team, to organize this material. That was the first time that the army was able to get accurate Order of Battle information of the Japanese army.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

gky: The sub-heading of this documentary is Patriotism and Civil Liberties. What do you think the role that you played with the MIS had to do with first, patriotism, and secondly, civil liberties?

SI: Well, that's pretty obvious that we a heck of a lot to do with demonstrating our patriotism. There's no thought in my mind when I put on the uniform, I was an American soldier. I think all of us did, the people I talked with at least. We felt a strong feeling of patriotism to the country. We weren't going out to become saboteurs, there is no case of sabotage with 30,000 Japanese Americans that were put into the army. So our contribution, and I think General Shinseki, as well as Senator Inouye, put it very well. They said, "If it weren't for you guys, we wouldn't be where we are." That's correct. I mean, I'm not boasting. We did it for our children and children's children, posterity. That's why I spend a heck of a lot of time trying to spread the word of what we did. We go on television, we go on -- we write articles and do whatever we can to let the American public know this is what we did. Not only the American public, I think the third or fourth generation, I think they should know. A lot of them are not aware of what we did. As far as civil liberties, I guess the fact that here again, Senator Inouye, at our reunion said that... and he's a member of the 442nd. He was talking to our reunion which we had in 1993. He said, "You fellows who were in the military service are the real heroes because you had to go out there and fight against people of your parents' country, and yet you did it without hesitation." And we did, we didn't hesitate. That's, I think that speaks volumes in itself.

gky: You know, it's kind of hard to imagine being back fifty years ago, thinking like you did fifty years ago, but you're young, you've still got to start on what you think is going to be your life, then you get called to service. You get called to war and your whole life changes.

SI: Yes.

gky: What kinds of thoughts have you had, thinking back on that?

SI: You see, I told you I was in Japan. My grandfather retired from the railroad and so he said, "Well, why don't you come along with me," so I went to Japan with him. This was after one year of college. Then I said, "I want to get into East-West trade, you know. So, I think what I'll do is study economics there." So I got into school. Now that was my purpose. But in '41, early 1941, I got a letter from the American embassy that said, "We'd like to talk to you." So I went there. They said, "Well, the situation between Japan and the United States is very serious, and we advise you to go home." So I said, "Okay, I'll go home." I took the final exam, that's in April, took the first ship out and came back here. So there was no question in my mind I wouldn't want to stay in Japan. So I came here, and then in October of that year I was inducted.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

gky: Let's go back to something that happened to you during the war. You weren't allowed to become an officer, you and all other Nisei, none of you were allowed. Did you feel that it was racially discriminatory then?

SI: Well, at the time, I didn't know whether -- I couldn't put my finger on it. There was a reason for it, because we looked like the enemy. And actually, that committee I was telling you that was in the War Department committee, the term that they used to describe us was "reprehensible." "They are 'reprehensible' to the American public and also to the army." Can you imagine that? "Reprehensible," that's what we were. But I think if you got a redneck from Texas somewhere, and say, "You are reprehensible in our eyes," they'd blow their tops, right? But this is where our parents come in. They have ingrained in us the values that we hold, which have carried us through, I think. Now this is what I've told everybody. I think it's our parents that have, they have more to do with our coming through without our sort of going over the edge. So when I read that, the term that the committee recommended said they're "reprehensible." Sometimes when I say this is what they said, then they say, "Oh no, that can't be right." No, it's correct. I got it from the National Archives. So this is right, yeah. They did have, I guess, a racial hatred, aggravated by the fact that we were Japanese, of Japanese origin.

gky: Do you think ever regret being of Japanese origin when you heard, when you read things like that, or when you heard things that people might have said to you?

SI: I wouldn't say regret, no. More than anything else, I wanted to prove that we were not. You know, when I was young, we used to play cowboys and Indians. We always thought of ourselves as Tom Mix. You know who Tom Mix is? [Laughs] You're too young for that. Tom Mix was a very famous cowboy, and Hoot Gibson, I don't know whether you guys -- but, Tom Mix was like Gene Autry, but Tom Mix was really the cowboy. So we played Cowboys and Indians. We were always cowboys, we were the good guys, and that's the way we looked upon ourselves. We were the good guys. We're Americans.

gky: I guess everybody, in a way, sees themselves as the good guys. When you found that commission, you got that field commission, what was that like? How did it come about and how did you get a commission? And what was the quote, unquote, "ceremony" like?

SI: Well, I -- see, from Brisbane we have ATIS, which is the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, that was set up in September of '42, and that was the central language intelligence center for the Southwest Pacific. Now, from there, I was sent to New Guinea, two, three times to stay in the field and to work with the combat units. So back and forth, and after I came back the second time, I applied for OCS, Officer Candidate School, because I felt it's about time I became an officer. So the reply was that, "Oh, we can't spare you, we can't spare you." I said, "Well, I'd certainly like to go." They said, "Well, we'll make you a warrant officer." So I was made a warrant officer. A warrant officer is, in the U.S. Army, a warrant officer is an officer. In the Australian army, they're considered as... not as officers. So, we were warrant officers and we were saluted, but then the Australians just treated us as not officers. So I was really unhappy about that. I said, "I wanted to be an officer." And then about six months after that, they made me a lieutenant, and that's when I was commissioned as an officer.

gky: How were you, how did it physically happen? Did they like give you a piece of paper, or did they have a ceremony where they pinned...

SI: No, they just said, "Here. You're a second lieutenant. Here's your orders." That's it. Because, I guess, in time of war they don't have time for ceremonies like that.

gky: Now, you were commissioned with Steve Kadani, no Gary Kadani and Steve Yamamoto.

SI: Yes.

gky: All at once?

SI: Yeah, the three of us.

gky: You remember when that was?

SI: Well, that was, I think it was in '43, late '43 or '44. I don't remember the exact date, but it was pretty late because I'd been in the army since '41. If I had my way about it, I would have applied for OCS after I finished my training, but then the war came along so that squashed that.

gky: You talked before about the article you want to write of Japanese Americans being of no military value. Can you talk a little bit again about what was meant by "no military value?"

SI: What is meant by "of no military value" is that they could not be used for any military purpose. We could not be used for any military purpose. And so, the 20,000, at that time, that represented a fairly sizable manpower, would have gone to waste. However, there were, as I say, these two intelligence officers who were military attaches who knew the Niseis, had Nisei friends. They proposed, initially they proposed that a division be formed of Niseis, and that, of course, was dwindled down to a combat, regimental combat team, and up until -- you see, we were in combat in mid-1942, six months after Pearl Harbor, we were in combat, the MIS was. And up until '43, the Nisei were not inducted. They were not accepted by the army. So another thing I was looking for was there must have been another committee that met and decided, "Well, these guys aren't too bad after all. Look at these commendations that are coming in from the Pacific about the Nisei intelligence, language specialists, and they're trustworthy. They're out there, been out there performing under enemy fire." So my conclusion is that because of what we did in the Pacific, the War Department said, "Okay, let's start using them." Don't quote me, because the 442nd guys are going to get mad at me. But this is the way it looks to me, because they were not taking Japanese Americans at all.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

gky: If you want to think about the one thing that you'd want you children to remember about your military service, what would it be?


SI: I think the most important thing I want my children to remember about my service, and our service, Nisei service in the war, is that despite the fact that we were severely discriminated, that we were not trusted, we held a strong belief in the fact that if we did our duty, proved our loyalty, that the society for our children and our children's children to come would be much better because of the fact that we did this. And this I think is exemplified by the comments made by General Shinseki who acknowledges this, as well as Inouye. If it weren't for us, if it weren't for the 442nd, if it weren't for the MIS, that -- and I think in the book that Bill Hosokawa wrote, called Nisei -- have you read it? In it, he says that the -- I can't quote him word for word -- but in effect he said that the Nisei have expressed the idea that they were doing this for the security of their children, which is correct. We were doing this for our children, for posterity.

gky: You know, when you are twenty-two, twenty-four, you probably aren't about anything but the war, in the middle of a war. You probably aren't thinking about when I get out of war and have a family, you don't even know if you're going to get out of the war. So...

SI: Well this is -- what you are saying is that we were too young to think about posterity, about our children. Well, you start thinking about it. Of course, one of the main reasons is that why are we going out in harm's way, in effect. This is why. That's what I did it for. I'm pretty sure that Bill Hosokawa, after his interview with many of the Nisei regiments, came to the same conclusion, that doing it for posterity, for the security of our children, is the words that they used.

gky: Only he wasn't thinking of general children, but not his children, but the next generation.

SI: The next generation, yeah.

gky: What do you think you contributed the most, how do you think you contributed the most to the MIS during the years you served?

SI: Well, in my language work, I think I contributed as much as I could in doing language work. It involved translation as well as evaluation of propaganda work that was being broadcast, and things like that. So, you know, General -- what was his name? Willoughby was the G2 for -- G2 is intelligence -- for MacArthur. He stated that we shortened the war in the Pacific and saved thousands of lives. So, in a way, I think that's what we did. We weren't fighting with weapons, although we were trained to use weapons. Our weapon was the written word, the translation, the interrogation. And our weapon served to save quite a few lives, but also really shortened the war.

gky: How -- would you repeat that again, please?

SI: General Willoughby, Charles Willoughby, was the intelligence chief for General MacArthur, and in a speech that he made to one of the reunions after the war, MIS reunions, he said that the work of the Nisei in the Pacific shortened the war. He said two years. He used two million lives, but I think he meant countless thousands of lives. I think he meant on both sides.

gky: Can you tell me, how do you think the MIS influenced your life?

SI: Pardon?

gky: How do you think the MIS influenced your life?

SI: It had a great influence. As I say, I had a career in mind of establishing some sort of trade, export-import trade with the Far East, and if there had not been a war, I would not been in MIS and have pursued that field. As a matter of fact, actually, when I came back from the field, I applied for the Harvard Business School and they accepted me. And if I had gone there, I guess I would have pursued that. But the MIS, being in the MIS, of course, changed that.

gky: And what did you wind up doing?

SI: Worked for the government.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

gky: How do you think the, what the MIS during World War II helped with the redress movement in getting an apology from the U.S. government?

SI: It's hard for me to gauge something like that. I can only say that I guess it had some effect because, after all, what we did was something that was for the good of the country. As a matter of fact, in the -- I may have told you about the conference at the White House, the Niseis, when Bush was president. This was the first year of the 50th anniversary of the war. He wanted our opinions on that. He felt that there would be some loud reactions to the Japanese because of the fact, of course, economically they were doing so well and all that, and there was conflict there. And also, if this 50th anniversary thing came up, he was going to talk at the Arizona Memorial. So I said, "One of the best things you could do is say that well, the Americans who fought in the war, both in Europe and the Asian Pacific theaters, contributed so much that we have a unit that's the most highly decorated unit in the United States army for its size. In this MIS, as I said, we shortened the war, saved thousands of lives. I wish you would say that. Just say that there were Japanese Americans who fought for America."

gky: You were in the occupation as well?

SI: No.

gky: Oh, you came back in...

SI: From the Philippines.

gky: You were in the Philippines? Right after the war, were you there with the war crimes trials, the B class trials?

SI: No, I came back here and I was assigned to the intelligence hearing in Washington.

gky: Did you feel any effect that you had had when you fought in the Pacific when you worked here in Washington? I guess, could you feel that the Nisei had done something when you were working here in the United States? Here you are, half a world apart from them, and there's still all this stuff going on. ATIS is still there, they've got the war crimes trial going on, and you're doing other government work back in the United States. What was the big difference for you as a Nisei, and just as a soldier?

SI: Well, I was assigned here as a soldier, so my work was still connected with the MIS type of work. It had beyond -- of course, on a more strategic level, not on a tactical level. So we were involved in more long-range type things. But I was still involved in intelligence with MIS.

gky: And did you feel, I don't mean the same kind of discrimination, but that there was a feeling of separateness with you and the non-Nisei soldiers you served with?

SI: Not with the soldiers. They were very, we got along very well. The officers, I got along very well with the officers. The only time that I felt a little upset was in San Francisco when people go around saying I'm Chinese or Filipino or Korean, or whatever.

gky: So you still were very proud of your heritage?

SI: Oh, absolutely. I believe that, I believe that our children and children's children, as far as possible, should be aware of what their heritage is. I sometimes wonder whether they do or not. The farther away you get, in terms of generations, I think you're going to lose a lot of the -- what I'm trying to do, for example, here in Washington and the Japanese American Veterans Association, I'm trying to get some of the younger people interested in taking over and carry on this type of work. Not this type of work, but carrying on the heritage, the legacy. And as a matter of fact, next year we're going to have a reunion in Los Angeles, 2001 reunion, the National Museum is sponsoring, and that's what the theme is going to be, to carry on the legacy. And that's what I think is important. Where like in Hawai'i and Los Angeles area, you have your Sons and Daughters organizations which are very active. But out here, we don't have very many involved in Sons and Daughters activity, but I think that's what should be done. I think that's -- so what I'm trying to do is we have a number of people working here, younger people working at the Pentagon, and we have some of them in our organization now, but I want to pull them in. I'm thinking get some of the midshipmen at Annapolis and let them know we exist, and have them join in some of our meetings.

gky: Okay. Any last thoughts about being in the MIS, about being Japanese American, about serving your country?

SI: Well, I think I've said my piece about that. I guess my voice is running out.

gky: Okay. Thank you very much.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.