Military Intelligence Service
Having left Okinawa to avoid conscription, Takejiro is a reluctant volunteer. But, fearing that his loyalty may be doubted and that he may be sent to Sand Island Detention Camp, he enlists.
He is called for the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Takejiro worries he will be stationed in the Pacific where he may encounter relatives and friends.
In response to their sister's pleas to the War Department, Takejiro and Warren are assigned to the same unit.
[Supplemental historical text excerpted from Shari Y. Tamashiro's manuscript "The MISLS and the MIS."]
"[F]inished Farrington 42, 43, June. Sophomore. At that time, this nisei volunteer group came out, 442nd volunteers stuff came out. My brother [Warren Higa] was already at the University taking ROTC [Reserve Officer's Training Corps] also. So he signed up right away. I don't sign up for a long time. So my brother keep asking me, "Eh, what are you going to do? All the nisei are going, signing up, you know."
"So I told my brother, "Eh, brother, remember I ran away from Okinawa because I didn't want to be drafted into the Japanese army? And still, my lack of English understanding, you expect me to volunteer, go in the army? Bullsh*t." He said, "Well, everybody's volunteering, you know."
"[A]t first, I was very reluctant to volunteer. . .I ran away from Okinawa because I didn't want to be sent to Manchuria. And another thing is, still lacking proper English knowledge. But after seeing that - reading the newspaper, all the community leaders, Japanese community leaders, being rounded up by FBI and thrown into - relocation camps in Sand Island. I just came back from Japan a couple years ago, so they might throw me in there. I was afraid of that."
"I did volunteer. But they didn't take me. My brother was accepted, but they didn't take me for some reason. So, at that time, I kind of felt sad. Why wasn't I selected? Was it because they suspect me? You know, they suspect me of being disloyal? That was my concern."
[L]oyalty and service to the country, farthest thing from my mind [when I enlisted].
Military Intelligence Service (MIS)
"Anyway, about three months after the 442nd left the Islands for training on the mainland, I got a letter from the war department. The content was, "This time, we're going to organize language soldiers, Japanese-language soldiers." And the content was, "Are you still interested in serving your country?" Hey, that put me on real turmoil, I tell you. Because if it's Japanese, it's understood that after training is over, I'd be thrown into the Pacific warfront."
In the 1930s, officers of the Japanese Imperial Army bragged that their native language itself was an almost impenetrable code. (Harrington, Yankee Samurai, p. 44) They were confident that no hakujin [Caucasian] could ever master what is considered to be one of the world's most complicated language. Consequently, Japanese officers fell into the habit of marking maps, battle orders, inventories, mine field charts, and everything else in "plain" Japanese. Japanese radio operators and pilots actually did the bulk of their broadcasts openly.
"My big concern was, what if I meet up with someone I know at the warfront? My relative, my classmate, my good friends, you know. What am I supposed to react? That was my biggest concern. Then I thought about it, thought about it, and said, "Well, since I did volunteer for combat duty, I cannot say no now." I cannot say that I cannot volunteer for a language. So I said, "Oh, I will." So I responded, said I will."
In a 1942 issue, LIFE magazine reported that, "When the war started, less than a 100 persons in America had a real mastery of Japanese." (Harrington, Yankee Samurai, p. 15) Rapidly deteriorating relations between Japan and the United States indicated the real possibility of war. This fact, coupled with the deficiency of Japanese language specialists alarmed military intelligence officers. Top military officials reluctantly agreed to the creation of a language school and the War Department ordered its establishment. These men were reluctant to trust the loyalties of Nisei, especially in the Pacific.
"So a few weeks later, I got a letter, said come to Dillingham Building, for an interview. So I went. There was an intelligence officer and an FBI agent, too. So they start asking me a lot of questions and some of the things they asked me, I forgot the answer. Then they look at their notes, "Oh, no. You so-and-so, you did so-and-so." I was surprised they know more about me than I remember myself. So at that point, I had a tremendous respect for American intelligence and the FBI."
The location of the first Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) class was in an abandoned airplane hangar at Crissey Field in the Presidio of San Francisco. Lieutenant Colonel John Weckerling and Captain Kai Rasmussen were given the daunting task of cleaning and furnishing the hanger, retaining instructors, and teaching soldiers Japanese on a $2,000 budget. (Hosokawa, John Aiso and the MIS, p. 15) Captain Kai Rasmussen was one of the few men in the U.S. Army able to speak Japanese. He recruited a 31 year old attorney named John Fujio Aiso from an Army motor pool to serve as chief instructor of the school. Between the two of them was forged the nucleus of the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS). Ironically, the school was originally placed under the jurisdiction of Lieutenant General John DeWitt, one of the driving forces behind the wartime internment of West Coast Japanese-Americans.
"I was really surprised they knew so much. I mean, I was only a sixteen-year-old young punk that just came back from Okinawa two years before the war. And why they were keeping dossier on me, I don't know. Because I didn't do anything, outrageous things in the two-year period. Somehow, they keep track of me, I guess. They know some of the things I don't remember, I forgot. That really shake me."
Using Naguma Readers as testers, Rasmussen gauged the linguistic abilities of 4,000 Nisei in uniform. The results were dismal. Less than 10% were able to read, write, or speak more than a few words of Japanese. Only a hundred could be rated as "somewhat competent" and only fifteen Nisei in the first Presidio class were "true" linguists who were proficient in both languages. (Harrington, Yankee Samurai, p. 23)
"At the end of the - toward the end of the conversation, they stick in front of me one small article - I don't know what kind of book it was, but "Can you read this?" So I read it, nenenenene you know. "What does it say?" So, I said, so-and-so, so-and-so. "Okay, we'll let you know if we're going to accept you or not." And then I read the Japanese and they tell me, "Do you understand what it says?" "Oh, yeah." "Okay, translate."
On November 1, 1941, the first MISLS class began their studies. Desks were made out of planks and orange crates were used as chairs. (Harrington, Yankee Samurai, p. 23) Students had to study in a growing atmosphere of anxiety and hatred as anti-Japanese sentiment festered. Of the original 60 students, only 40 Nisei and 2 Caucasians graduated. They were immediately sent out in teams to the Aleutians, New Caledonia, Australia, and other locations across the Pacific. A number remained behind to serve as instructors for ensuing classes. Initially, officers did not know what to do with the Japanese language specialists assigned to them and the first "MISers" were not put to much use. When he arrived in Australia, Arthur Komori was utilized as a driver instead of translating.
"Well, I just finished Farrington High School sophomore year. Speech wasn't good, but at least I knew some English words. Sentencing, and whatnot. So afterwards, say, "Okay, we'll let you know by letter whether we're going to accept you or not." So about several weeks later, I got another letter. Said this time, "Please report to Schofield." So I went. They were almost three hundred people over there. At that point, I was inducted. Altogether, 239 of us joined."
In the meantime, the MISLS course at the Presidio was cut from twelve months to six months and Rasmussen had to move the program away from San Francisco because of rising antipathy against Japanese-Americans. It was at this time that President Roosevelt signed the infamous Executive Order 9066 and Japanese-Americans were being evacuated from the West Coast. MISLS was placed under the direction of the War Department. Camp Savage in Shakopee, Minnesota was selected as the school's new site. Minnesota's past history of racial amity proved to be the deciding factor in the choice.
"Brother, well, he was already in the ROTC program, so he and his group, all volunteered right away. Ted Tsukiyama was one of them. And as you know, afterwards, they were inducted into Hawaiian Home Guard [Hawaii Territorial Guard]. And they were guarding the beach. And later on, army discharged them from their duty. And thereafter, Hung Wai Ching and somebody else's influence, they organized Varsity Victory Volunteers, Triple V. Those are the forerunners, my brother, Ted Tsukiyama group, all of them."
"I had a mixed feeling. Now that I'm inducted. One good thing was, I was going to be sent to Minnesota, for training. And going to mainland is a dream, eh? (Chuckles) I didn't know what to expect over there.""I don't know what to expect in the army. I mean, excitement, too. But deep inside, inner feeling is fear, what to expect."
Brother: Warren Higa
"So, just prior to we being assigned overseas at Camp Savage, there was a terrible accident in the South Pacific area. Five brothers, [Sullivan] brothers, killed all one time. They were the crew members of a cruiser, got torpedoed, and they're killed. So, from that time on, I understand, there was a policy in the war department not to assign two brothers in the same combat team, same time."
"In our case, my sister, I later found out, asked the war department, begged the war department to assign me and my brother [Warren] together, hoping that two brothers serving together help each other and survive the war. I found that out after the war. So that's how we were together. I think we were the only two brothers serving the same outfit, same time."
Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Historical information excerpted from the manuscript "The MISLS and the MIS," courtesy of Shari Tamashiro. Photographs courtesy of Ted Tsukiyama and Takejiro Higa.