G-2 Intelligence/ Nisei part 1

Kai Rasmussen (center)

Kai Rasmussen (center)

Smitty held the Nisei in very high regard and I would be remiss in neglecting to tell their story. Beside, one of these men might have been directly responsible for the safe return of my father. In reality, it would be near impossible to relate a story of the Pacific War without mentioning their service. Some of this unique intelligence force worked ‘behind the scene’ stateside U.S.A. or Australia, but many were up front and fighting at and behind enemy lines. Smitty always had extreme appreciation for the courage, resilience and down-right crazy stunts they pulled off. They were capable of going behind the lines to acquire information or cut into the radio lines and all the while they remained quite aware that their own units might mistake them for the enemy when they returned. This did happen more than once.

Most everyone is aware of whom the Nisei are, but for clarification purposes, here are some of the terms that might be used in this section:

AJA – Americans of Japanese Ancestry
MISers – the name used for students and graduates of the Military Intelligence Service Language School
Issei – first generation Japanese-American
Nisei – second generation Japanese-American, (this term is for definition only – Nisei prefer to state that they are American)
Kibei – Japanese-American who received education in Japan

At the language school, the students were crammed with courses and put on a strict schedule. Some courses included:

Kanji – a Japanese method of writing based on Chinese logographic characters
Kaisho – the printed form of Kanji and can only be read by someone who has memorized a great number of ideographs
Gyosho – hand written Japanese, very similar to the Palmer Method of Penmanship and is very difficult for Americans
Sosho – the shorthand version of Kanji and almost impossible for an American to learn. Most Japanese field orders were taken down by this method.

Kai Rasmussen recruitment letter - date  6/14/74  at bottom is when this letter was de-classified

Kai Rasmussen recruitment letter – date 6/14/74 at bottom is when this letter was de-classified

It must be noted that many of these men had family incarcerated in detainment camps and serving in the Imperial Army & Navy, but in school, on the job and in combat they loyally worked to do their level best. The language school began 1 November 1941 at Crissy Field, with Lt. Colonel John Wickerling in charge. His right hand man, educator and recruiter, Kai Rasmussen, was a primary force in the success of the school. He was a West Point grad who spoke Japanese with a Danish accent and would eventually earn the Legion of Merit for his efforts.

A move was necessary from San Francisco to Camp Savage, Minnesota. The change in location was largely due to the bigotry that had overwhelmed California at the time. The most influential white supremacists included: Earl Warren; The Natives Sons and Daughters of the Golden West; William Randolph Hearst and his newspapers and Congessman Leland Ford. Eventually, the school needed to expand and moved to Fort Snelling, St. Paul.

Rasmussen’s right hand man was John Fujio Aiso, an attorney out of Brown and Harvard and had studied at Chuo University in Tokyo. (He was originally assigned to a motor pool because the Army felt they had no need for additional lawyers.) Rasmussen traveled across the country in attempts to find candidates for the school. The Pentagon had kept the paperwork for the operations of the Nisei secret for three decades, but Smitty began talking about them once I was old enough to ask questions.

When the first graduates were sent to the Pacific and landed in Australia, they were part of the Americal troops. Many were sent to help with the fighting on Iwo Jima, which MacArthur felt was taking far too long to complete. Some stayed and worked with the Australian troops and others went to British or Canadian units. (Canada also had their own S-20 Japanese Language School in Vancouver, British Columbia to train interpreters.) Only the U.S. Navy rejected the linguists. Admiral Halsey did in fact understand their importance and requested some MISers for his fleet, but as a whole, Nimitz and the rest of the navy wanted to continue using their own intelligence personnel. (A very serious mistake in Leyte Gulf.)

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

It was difficult to locate the Nisei that worked G-2 specifically for the 11th Airborne because the men were rarely ever put on the official rosters. A MISer could train with the 11th on New Guinea and by December he was in Burma or up in the Aleutians. They were as difficult to track as the 11th A/B themselves. One Nisei found himself stuck at the Panama Canal, not at all certain what he was supposed to do there. But, I did manage to locate a fair number of fellow paratroopers from Smitty’s division: Clarence Ohta and John Nakahara jumped with the 11th on Luzon. George Kojima, Koshi Ando and James Harada were with the 503d Regiment. Harry Akune jumped on Corregidor without any training, injured his ankle and went to work translating immediately. He was later at Atsugi airfield with MacArthur. After the service he went back to college. There was also: Robert Kimura and Mitsuo Usui; Takeshi “Jim” Fujisaka (lived in Fresno, CA and passed away 7 Sept. 1996); Tetsuo Koga; Norman Kihuta (with the 511th G-2 was discharged 6 Jan. 1946); Mike Miyatake went back to his customs job after his discharge; Akira Abe took his parachute training, flew to New Guinea and continued with the 11th A/B throughout Leyte and Luzon. Jiro Tukimura and Eddie Tamada were also noted in the records.

In February of 1943, the Taiyo Maru, a Japanese transport ship, was sunk and a lifeboat washed up on Goodenough Island, north of New Guinea;s eastern tip. On that boat was a document that included a list of 40,000 Imperial Army officers from Hideki Tojo on down. These papers, once translated, gave the rank of each officer, unit assigned, the order of battle and the amount of men in each of these units. This information along with documents previously acquired and translated established the exact location of all Japanese units. This work alone was worth the time and effort of forming the MIS.

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on May 30, 2013, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. Lots of likes and comments. I am happy to see your military history content is getting such good exposure.

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    • Thanks, I still consider myself a newbie as far as blogging is concerned, but the historical facts are out there just waiting for me to capture them and put them down.

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  2. Reblogged this on Masako and Spam Musubi and commented:
    A wonderful story on the role of the secret Japanese-American US Army soldiers who formed the “Military Intelligence Service” and of their possible influence on the father’s safe return from brutal war…

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  3. gpcox… You did a MARVELOUS job of presenting a condensed history of the MIS. Tremendous job. Extremely well researched – down to some of the Nisei jumpers and combatants. Perhaps Dr. James C. McNaughton may be interested in your detail knowledge.

    As you clearly mentioned, the “kibei” were the core of the MISers. No matter how hard a Hawaiian or mainland Nisei studied, they could never equal the language and custom mastery the kibei had. Even today, my father reads the pre-war kanji with ease. Its like his A, B, and C’s.

    The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC and successor to the initial language school) recently began a restoration project of the hangar, I believe, at the Presidio where Aiso and Rasmussen began their stressful work.

    Wonderful job, gpcox… and a salute to Smitty. I thank him for standing up for other American’s rights in the post-war society. Definitely not easy to do…

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    • I am speechless, your praise has not only thrilled me, but depicts the reason I started this site in the first place. And Smitty – when my dad believed in something… well, the story speaks for itself. Thank you so much. I hope you are feeling better.

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  4. Just read parts 1 and 2. Important historical stories – they need to be told. I’ve re-posted Part 1 to facebook. Will pick up Part 2 in a day or two. Love your posts.

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    • I am honored that you have re-posted the article. My father thought the world of these men and I am grateful they helped in bringing him home. They deserved to be remembered. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

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  5. Hello – I’ve nominated you for the WordPress Family Award and The Dragon Loyalty Award. I hope this will bring more followers to your fantastic site. You may pick up your awards here: http://wp.me/p22zGi-yq. Should you elect to pass the awards along, they may be posted seperately.

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  6. EmilyAnn Frances

    You did an excellent job with the presentation, especially with defining the terms in the beginning.

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  7. A wonderful piece of history. Thank you.

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  8. Your stories never cease to amaze me. I’ve never heard of this.

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    • I’m very glad I’m doing the story, you are not alone. I grew up with Smitty telling me stories about them, but it seems not everyone did.

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  9. Great work on bringing these little-known heroes to light. Thankfully, we were a little wiser about these folks than the Germans were about the Cossacks. Though they hated Stalin and surrendered willingly in order to fight the Soviets, the Nazis didn’t trust them, and instead shipped them off to France to defend Normandy. Several units fired their guns into the air until they ran out of bullets (all 5 of them), then surrendered to the Allies! (Personally, I’m glad they did, or the German troops outside Moscow in December 1941 might’ve had something warmer than summer uniforms to wear.)
    Well done!

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  10. An amazing contribution to the war effort.

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  11. What a fascinating story! I served a brief LDS mission in Japan and Hawaii in 1975 and 1976, and spent two months in a Language Training program learning the rudiments of Japanese. Later in my life, I have been privileged to work with Japanese and Americans and Australians of Japanese ancestry as they translated American English into Japanese. My very limited understanding of the Japanese language has given me an admiration for everyone who is fluent in both languages! I had never heard this story, and I look forward to “Part II.”

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    • I hope you do, these men deserve the recognition. Since you’ve had language training, you can appreciate what these men had to do in 6 months.

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  12. I think what I find most interesting is that many of these men had relatives incarcerated in detainment camps, and yet they still worked so hard and contributed so much to the war effort for their “new” country. Great post.

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  13. Fascinating. Since my uncle’s weren’t in the Pacific theater – except Dave, the youngest, who didn’t get there until 1945 – I didn’t know of their contribution. Thank you for sharing their story so that ALL American’s can appreciate their dedication and the major part they played in that theater..

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    • Since I grew up with dad talking about the Nisei, I have been very surprised that there are some people out there who do not know of their contributions. I’m so glad I did the research and not just relied on my memory. Smitty told me the truth, but there were other details as well.

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  14. Intriguing. Didn’t know about these men and their contribution to the war effort.

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  15. An interesting post as always 🙂

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  16. Pierre Lagacé

    History in the making…

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