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MIS Language School moves to Minnesota

Languages

  • MIS school goes to Camp Savage, MN

The situation as of May 1942

Throughout 1941, tensions between the United States and Japan were intensifying. As the possibility of war with Japan grew, the US looked to increasing its Japanese intelligence capabilities. This led some visionary officers to establish the Fourth Army Intelligence school to train Japanese linguists. The first class of sixty students began training in an abandoned aircraft hangar on Crissy Field at the Presidio of San Francisco on November 1, 1941. Fifty-eight of those students were American soldiers of Japanese ancestry  and two were Caucasian. They were taught by four Nisei Instructors. A total of 45 students were able to successfully complete the training and be graduated in May 1942, prior to the school moving to Camp Savage, Minnesota.

 

Why did the MIS School move?

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, which forced the removal of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast  to concentration camps at remote locations inside the United States. That meant the Army language school could no longer remain in San Francisco.

Additionally it had become clear that the demand for Japanese linguists to support the war effort was going to grow very rapidly and there was not enough room at the Presidio to develop larger teaching and housing facilities. After the first class graduated, the number of instructors increased to eighteen — eight civilian instructors and ten enlisted men. They needed space to be able to teach an anticipated increase in new recruits. With the move to Camp Savage, the school officially changed its name to the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS).

 

Why Camp Savage?

Many midwestern states refused the request to be the new home for the  MIS Language School, but Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota offered a location, Camp Savage, which had formerly served as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The civilian populace there was fairly accepting of the idea of the school, and had no history of anti-Asian prejudice.

Minnesota state officials were “extremely cooperative in arranging for this camp,” Lt. Col. Kai E. Rasmussen told local reporters, “and we hope the public will show the men every courtesy due American soldiers.” 1

Camp Savage encompassed  132 isolated and quiet acres, which made it good for security and for studying. A few dozen buildings already existed, which would be used for barracks and classrooms. The Minneapolis Morning tribune also urged residents to “Extend a cordial welcome to this unique army encampment.” 2

 

How did it work out?

On Monday, June 1, 1942, classes began at Camp Savage with 160 Nisei and 30 Caucasian students. The students were taught using the curriculum developed at Crissy Field for the first class. The students studied extremely hard, many of them staying up late into the nights studying. They wanted to prove their loyalty to the United States and bring honor to their family names, since many of their families were now incarcerated in concentration camps.

Minnesota was a great home for the MISLS as many of the local civilians viewed the Nisei simply as American soldiers who were far from home and family, dedicating their young lives to the defense of America. During their off-duty time many of the soldiers went out into Minneapolis-St. Paul to enjoy the Red Cross clubs, YMCA, movie theaters, restaurants and bars.

The critical need for Japanese linguists continued to grow and more recruits were brought in from incarceration camps, Hawaii and other areas of the military. Soon the MISLS outgrew the space at Camp Savage and moved to nearby Fort Snelling in St. Paul in August 1944. Eventually there were over 6,000 linguists who graduated. Their service in the Pacific theater of World War II was so successful that it prompted General Douglas MacArthur’s chief of intelligence to say, "The Nisei shortened the Pacific War by two years and saved possibly a million American lives and saved probably billions of dollars.” 3

 

Authored by Justin Hirai

Footnotes

  1. 1. James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Department of the Army Washington, D.C., 2006), 95.
  2. 2. Ibid.
  3. 3. Minnesota History Center Gale Family Library. “Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling: Overview.” https://libguides.mnhs.org/misls

 

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