Nisei – part 1

Nisei soldiers

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 or if you continue with your own research:

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 (center)

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 Congressman 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.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

“AIM FOR THE CAT!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Malcolm Armstrong – Ardmore, OK; US Army, WWII, Purple Heart

John Bagwell – Arab, AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 511/11th Airborne Division

Milo Durant – Manawatu, NZ; NZEF #453408, WWII, Pvte.

Virginia Fallon – New Haven, CT; Civilian, WWII, Winchester Repeating Arms, ammo inspector

Raymond Goulet – New Bedford, MA; US Army, WWII, ETO, 85th Infantry Division

Ralph Hatcher – Indianapolis, IN; US Army, Vietnam,101st Airborne Division, medic

T. Chester McKeon – Prairie Grove, AR; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, B-25 crew chief, MSgt.

Harvey Nichols – Braxton, MS; US Army, WWII, PTO, POW, KIA

Charles Peck – Hansville, WA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, gunner

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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 September 23, 2019, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 135 Comments.

  1. The Issei, GP, were the immigrants from Japan; the Nisei, their children were the 1st generation American born. In point of fact, the prejudice was so malicious, their immigrant parents were not even allowed to seek naturalization.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You were fortunate that your dad talked to you about these things. So many didn’t talk at all. This is an amazing part of the war that I had no knowledge of.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think he ever intended to, but once I discovered his scrapbook, I got nosy and pushed. He usually only told me humorous or educational type info. But yes, I consider myself very lucky.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Lest We Forget II and commented:
    Nisei – part 1

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I really appreciated you taking the time to define some of the terms for those of us who aren’t so familiar with them. I had to smile — I’d never heard of kanji until I did that post about the beams of light and the poem titled “Komorebi.” Believe me, it took some concentration to get through all the details of the writing and the language.

    I’m intrigued by Kai Rasmussen. Your comment that he spoke Japanese with a Danish accent caught my attention. One of my readers from California, now in her nineties, married a California Rasmussen who was Danish. She often spoke of their Danish heritage, and even though it’s a long shot, I’m going to contact her daughter and see if Kai might be related somehow.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. The Nisei story needs to be told

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thank you for this post, GP. I have been particularly curious about Nisei since watching the drama Terror.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Excellent tribute to those who were of Japanese/American heritage, one cannot realise completely, the different forms of stress they must have been operating under at the time.
    Informative post gp, as to be expected from you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Another great piece of information, GP! There is so much information i never heared before. Thank you very much. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What an honorable post! Grateful for these Japanese American patriots in a difficult time in our history

    Liked by 2 people

  10. It’s a good job that the Allies had these people. Without their help, the situation would have been catastrophic. How many of those white supremacists spoke Japanese? What could have been done if you had not sought out the help of the Nisei? How can you have any military intelligence of any worth if nobody speaks the enemy’s language? It would all have been guesswork.
    A similar situation came about in 1941 in England when the USSR suddenly became our ally. All three forces and all the universities were scoured from top to bottom for anybody with any knowledge whatsoever of Russian.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Fascinating stuff. It’s so impressive to hear about the dedication of the Nisei, in spite of the prejudice they faced.
    Well, now I’m curious- I drive past Ft. Snelling every time I get back to visit the family and my brother and I have been talking about visiting the museums there for a while, but haven’t made it happen yet- I wonder if this is part of their WWII exhibit. Thanks for more good incentive to check it out!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. My mind is blown all the time reading your blog, but now you’re on a topic very close to home for me because I am Japanese American (yonsei). My grandfather had owned a farm in Weld county, and him and my great grandparents, mom, and the rest of the family were protected by Governor Ralph L. Carr who protected the Japanese in CO which is why my dad was here (safe haven after the war). His family was incarcerated because he had lived in Stockton. Aside from my direct family, there are family friends who I grew up around and their uncle is George Sakato, Medal of Honor recipient…. it’s sucks how there’s a Hollywood movie, and 80+ years, yet most aren’t aware of the 442nd or 100th.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know about the Nisei contributions because of your honorable family ties to the situation. I knew about it because of my father having served with Nisei in his unit. But being as the Nisei soldiers refrained from looking for glory, and did not talk about their exploits, schools did not teach about them and very few books were written with the subject included.
      You must be very proud of your family’s legacy!!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. There’s always that need to accept that life is not black and white, and not everything is as we think it is, so much going on in that war, especially the blurred lines of who took to which side, and how racial tensions were uneasy.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Excellent story Sir, I had never even heard of them at least not that I can remember. I am going to reblog this article for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thanks for starting a series, gpcox. I remember fondly of one of your stories involving your pop and the Nisei.

    I wish to add one bit: many of the “Nisei” imprisoned in the camps were pretty “American”. They spoke no Japanese like two of my uncles. When they were drafted out of camp, they were forced to learn Japanese from scratch. Their Japanese was very elementary. Just imagine a Caucasian sitting in their chairs. And man, their accents were terrible! LOL

    You described the handwriting styles. Only kibei like my dad could even POSSIBLY read it. You can bet Niseis like my two uncles would NEVER have been able to read it – let alone even read printed kanji.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. I remember them when they were at Fort Snelling. Once they marched down the road by the house and my puppy followed them. One of them grabbed my dog and ran it back to me. I thought they were Indian solders, Native Americans; but my grandfather, who worked at the fort as a carpenter told me about them. He liked them. He said they were always friendly.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I had no idea, of course, and I thank you once again, GP, for teaching me a valuable history lesson!
    I also loved the dog aiming for the cat.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Very important post for me, GP. I’m beginning my draft trying to incorporate the Nisei. There will be a character in the third book based on the honorable Nisei regiment.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. One of my prof’s in college was a Nisei, Dr. (Can’t recall first name) Oba. He often talked about serving with the armed forces and fighting in Europe while his parents sat in a relocation camp. I always found that intriguing that the Sons could fight, but the parents weren’t trusted.

    If memory serves, he won the either a Bronze or Silver Star.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I could not locate him on the Silver Star list, so it was probably either the Bronze or Congressional – or both!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, William. I stopped by and saw this thread about your Dr. Oba. I did a very quick search and found his complete name is William Izumi Oba. He was drafted May 4, 1944 out of a Colorado internment camp. Some of his data is as follows:

      Last Name First Name S Unit/Co/Class ASN Hometown Rank BORN DIED LOCATION Graves (WRA Camps, Etc.)
      Oba William I 2 6.Snel 45-07 O-1326195 CO, Alamosa Co Ofcr 14-Apr-20 21-May-07 CO, Alamosa 38084250

      The letter “O” in front of his serial number designates commissioned officer but he was a draftee with original ASN of 38084250. I do not see any indication of combat experience; note his enlistment date of May 4, 1944 and graduation month of July 1945 out of Ft. Snelling (as was my uncle). Born in 1920, he was likely more intelligent than the other draftees and was selected for OCS?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks a bunch. He was head of the Sociology Department at Adams State and I took a number of courses from him. I recall him talking about OCS. As for more intelligent! I don’t think there’s a word for him. Very logical, a little standoffish, but once you got to know him nicest guy in the world. he could look at a newspaper page for about ten seconds and then recite it back to you with 98% accuracy. I learned
        a lot from him.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t recall him talking about combat either, but he did train soldiers.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I only mentioned the combat because you had mentioned he was awarded a Bronze or Silver Star. It just may be the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to all Nisei who served during hostilities (which was declared ended on December 31, 1946).

          Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you again for educating us all, GP!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. They are proud to be an American and loyal to the cause of freedom. Much, much better than some people in today’s society. Great tribute to them. Love the dog cartoon!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes they are!! At first, most of these men refused recognition and would not talk about their exploits. I’m glad some of them were finally coaxed into talking!!
      Gee – that dog cartoon is a big success!!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you for this information I had not known

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Senator Bob Dole, Republican of Kansas, who lost use of his right arm in combat in Italy was close friends with Senator Dan Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii. a Japanese-American who lost his right arm in combat in Italy during an action for which he earned the Medal of Honor, the U.S.’ highest military award. Inouye’s heroism is the sort of story one usually only reads in fiction and is worth looking up. When both supported the same legislation, they were an unstoppable team.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. The discrimination that Japanese-Americans faced during (and before and after) World War II is one of the many dark scars on American history.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And to think it was mainly a financial decision on FDR’s part – not fear of them.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Financial? Why? I’ve never heard that before.

        Liked by 1 person

        • His friends, VIPs in California mainly, wanted the rich land that the Japanese were working.
          according to the government’s own intelligence service, this concern over espionage was misplaced. That is, concern for national security was not the true reason for interning Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Instead, this internment was motivated by nothing other than interest-group politics. special-interest groups seeking protection from the competition of Japanese and Japanese-Americans residing on the West Coast. Labor unions and farmers wanted the Japanese out of California and off the land long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor provided a handy opportunity for these groups to complete a task that they started several years earlier.
          Despite anti-Japanese legislation, the growth of the Japanese involvement in agriculture during this period was impressive. By 1940 Japanese farmers produced at least 90 percent of snap beans, celery, peppers, and strawberries. Japanese farmers also produced 50 to 90 percent of artichokes, celery, cucumbers, fall peas, spinach, and tomatoes for canning, and 25 to 50 percent of the asparagus, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, lettuce, onions, and watermelons.
          Farms owned by Japanese-Americans were sold for a few cents on the dollar to Caucasian farmers. One estimate of the value of Japanese farmland in 1940 was over $72 million. After the war, internees were paid only a small fraction of the value of their losses.

          Liked by 3 people

      • I’m not saying diddly-squat about that totally behind-the-scenes scheming, racist and disloyal FDR…. Oops.

        Liked by 2 people

  25. I love learning about the interesting but largely unmentioned pieces of history. If I relied on the history we were taught in school, the war in the Pacific was Pearl Harbor, a handful of island battles, Iwo Jima, an atomic bomb (they rarely mentioned Nagasaki) and MacArthur saying he would return. The sad thing is that that was way more than what we learned about the Korean War. I’ve been reading your blog for years, and I am still learning – thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Wonder if anyone has written a biography of Kai Rasmussen. Japanese with a Danish accent! The word Nisei come in handy only in crossword puzzles.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I have never found a bio of Rasmussen, but there must be a lot of info about his work in these books of military intelligence….
      Books

      Military Intelligence Service Language School, U.S. Army, Fort Snelling, Minnesota, by Stone S. Ishimaru.
      Los Angeles: TecCom Production, 1991.
      MNHS call number: D810. S7 I83 1991

      America’s Human Secret Weapon, by Duane R. Shellum.
      Minneapolis : Minnisei Printers, 1977.
      MNHS call number: F615.J3 S44

      Unsung Heroes: The Military Intelligence Service, Past, Present, Future: The Eyes and Ears of the Allied Forces During and After World War II, by Roy Inui, George Koshi, Mitzi Matsui, Takashi Matsui, and Ken Sato.
      Seattle, Wash: Milliatry Intelligence Service, Northwest Association, 1996.
      MNHS call number: D810.S7 U67 1996

      Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the End of World War II: Military Intelligence Service, Northwest Association, September 7-9, 1995, by the Military Intelligence Service National Reunion.
      Seattle, Wash.: The Association, 1995.
      MNHS call number: D810.S7 M55 1995n

      Japanese-American Veterans of Minnesota, by Edwin M. Nakasone.
      White Bear Lake, Minn.: j-Press Pub., 2002.
      MNHS call number: D753.8 .N34 2002

      John Aiso and the M.I.S.: Japanese-American Soldiers in the Military Intelligence Service, World War II, edited by Tad Ichinokuchi.
      Camp Savage and Fort Snelling days on pages 35-59.
      Los Angeles: Military Intelligence Service Club of Southern California, 1988.
      MNHS call number: D810.S7 J58 1988

      Kanji & Codes: Learning Japanese for World War II, by Irwin L.Slesnick.
      Bellingham, WA : I.L. & C.E. Slesnick, 2006.
      MNHS call number: D810.S7 S54 2006

      Nisei Linguists: Eyes and Ears of Allied Pacific Forces
      Minnesota: s.n., 1945.
      MNHS call number: FOLIO PL521.M55 M55 1945

      Military Intelligence Service Language School
      Minnesota: s.n., 1945.
      MNHS call number: FOLIO PL521.M55 M55 1945

      Army Japanese Linguists in Training
      Minnesota: s.n., 1945.
      MNHS call number: FOLIO PL521.M55 M55 1945

      Liked by 1 person

  27. As usual great research about unsung heroes.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. I have just read the original part 2 again. I could not wait.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Fascinating, GP. Would people today fight for a government that abused them like that? Looking forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. An inspiring piece of history, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. I hadn’t heard of these guys, good to find out aboiut them.
    (I also thought the dog joke funny 🙂 )

    Liked by 3 people

  32. A worthy tribute to those Japanese-American soldiers who did so much for the war effort, especially behind the scenes.
    (The dog joke is funny too!)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Thank you for helping me to share this information, Ian.

    Like

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