More than 6,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJAs) – about half of them from Hawaii – served in the Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during World War II. Using their knowledge of the enemy’s language and culture the MIS is credited with saving countless lives and shortening the war immeasurably.
Most MIS Nisei attended the MIS Language School in Minnesota, eventually deploying in small teams to serve at all echelons, from the front lines to the highest headquarters. MIS Nisei served with U.S. divisions in the Pacific and Asia, and with British, Australian, Chinese and other Allied forces.
MIS Nisei served in every combat theatre and campaign against Imperial Japan from the Aleutians and Guadalcanal to China and Okinawa. They interrogated prisoners, translated captured documents, wrote propaganda, made and intercepted radio broadcasts, infiltrated enemy lines, flushed caves and fought as combat infantrymen. Many a MIS Nisei survived a scare when fellow GIs mistook him for the enemy.
Notable individual contributions include a Nisei intelligence specialist who discovered the entire Japanese ordnance inventory, proving invaluable in the U.S. bombing campaign and disarmament of Japan. Another MIS Nisei translated a radio intercept that led to the assassination of Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Others translated Japan’s Z plan for the defense of the Philippines.
After the war, the MIS were vital in building bridges between the victorious occupying forces and the defeated Japanese as Japan developed as a modern democracy.
Because much of their work was classified, and done on temporary assignments, their service went largely undocumented and unheralded for years. MIS contributions to victory were finally recognized in 2000 with a Presidential Unit Citation “for outstanding and gallant performance of duty in action against enemies of the United States from May 1, 1942 to September 2, 1945”.
For more information please visit the MIS Veterans Club