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Military Intelligence --this week in history. 1 Nov 1941

October 26, 2012

On 1 November 1941, just weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, 60 Japanese-American students began a six-month course in the Japanese language at the Fourth Army Intelligence School, Presidio of San Francisco. War Department officials had secretly begun to recruit Japanese-Americans as interpreters and translators as early as the summer of 1941. What they found, however, was of the approximately 3,700 Japanese-Americans already in military service, less than ten percent could read or speak more than a few words of the Japanese language.

Intelligence officials quickly formed the Fourth Army Intelligence School to bring the recruits' language skills up to the required level. Curriculum and texts were hastily developed from scratch and an abandoned airplane hangar on Crissy Field was commandeered for a classroom. Students were selected through interviews with intelligence officers or with Selective Service officials at the time they were drafted. While many of the Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans) students had absorbed an appreciation of Japanese culture and society from their parents, the students struggled to learn the language. The course was grueling and the days were long. William Nuno, a student in the first class, wrote in a letter to his brother, "Boy, the studies here are getting terrific and the strain is gradually taking its toll.How would you like to study a language all day long, then study all night long 'til midnight or even later?" Nuno specifically mentioned the difficulty of learning the Japanese military terminology that was a focus of the class.

In May 1942, the first 45 students graduated from the school. Thirty-five immediately deployed to Alaska and the Southwest Pacific area. The others became instructors at the new Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) at Camp Savage, Minnesota, where the school moved following the evacuation order relocating all Japanese Americans on the West Coast into camps. The MISLS continued to operate throughout the war, graduating more than 6,000 Nisei who went on to serve as Japanese-language translators/interpreters with the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) throughout the Pacific Theater.

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