A Long-overdue Salute To MIS Vets

This poster for the new exhibit at U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii was designed by Harlan Yuhara

This poster for the new exhibit at U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii was designed by Harlan Yuhara

The forthcoming Military Intelligence Service Veterans National Reunion, slated for March 27-28 in Honolulu, will bring to the forefront one of the unheralded stories of World War II. Local folks are familiar with the heroics of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy and France during WWII. The late U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, and other influential leaders of post-war Hawaii, were drawn from the ranks of these much-decorated military units.

Less known, but no less important, were the soldiers of Military Intelligence Service, people whose knowledge of Japanese language and culture enabled them to serve as translators, interpreters, prisoner-of-war interrogators, cave flushers, combat infantrymen and more. In addition, they looked like the enemy, and that raised the risk of being mistakenly shot by other GIs. Once the war was over, these MIS nisei were on hand to arrange the surrender of Japanese commands across Asia and the Pacific, then played vital roles in occupied Japan to rebuild the devastated country as a modern democracy and important American ally. About 6,000 nisei, including a number of women, served with the MIS — and half of them were from Hawaii.

The deeds of the MIS nisei went unheralded for decades after the war because their contributions were classified by the government. Furthermore, few of these soldiers shared accounts of their wartime experiences with friends or family. And because they often were only temporarily attached to combat units, little of their personal history was recorded for posterity.

All of that is about to change, as some of that history is poised to be unveiled at a new exhibit at U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki. In addition to historical information on the formation and accomplishments of MIS, it contains rare photographs and memorabilia from the period. It is also timely: 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Japan and the conclusion of the war in the Pacific.

Among the nisei featured are the Army’s Gero Iwai and the Navy’s Douglas Wada, who were in counterintelligence before the war. Others include Arthur Komori and Richard Sakakida, Hawaii-born nisei who were spying for the Americans in the Philippines before the Japanese invasion, as well as Kazuo Yamane, who discovered a hugely important Imperial Army weapons inventory.

The exhibit, titled “America’s Secret Weapon,” was produced by Mark Matsunaga, Gregg Hirata and Harlan Yuhara under the auspices of MIS Veterans Club of Hawaii. Support was provided by museum director Judith Bowman and Hawaii Army Museum Society.

Mark, whose father, George, was preparing for the invasion of Japan and served instead with the occupation, has been a longtime member of MIS Veterans Club. Mark said, “This is our effort to preserve and share the story of the MIS nisei. We hope this exhibit and the national reunion will get the children and grandchildren of MIS veterans to take an active role in documenting the accounts of their fathers, and sharing with us precious memorabilia like photos, letters and military records.”

Gregg, whose dad, Teichiro, was with the Allied forces in India, added, “Mark and I owe a tremendous debt to graphic artist Harlan Yuhara, who devoted so much of his time and energy to designing an exceptional exhibit and to helping MIS Veterans Club and our members with so many of our projects.”

Both George Matsunaga and Teichiro Hirata continued their public-service careers after the war by serving with distinction in departments of taxation and education before retiring, and raising children who lead exemplary lives. I had the privilege of having Gregg Hirata and Mark Matsunaga serve with me in the Mayor’s Office, and they were two of the most talented and dedicated public servants I have ever worked with — an obvious nod to how they were raised by their parents. In fact, in all the years I have known Mark, Gregg and Harlan, they have said very little about their tireless work behind the scenes to bring this exhibit about and are quick to deflect praise to others who are helping with the project.

The MIS National Reunion, with a theme of “Keeping the MIS Legacy Alive,” will include an opening social and workshop Friday evening, March 27, at the 100th Battalion Veterans Clubhouse on Kamoku Street across from Iolani School. That will be followed the next day by the grand-opening ceremony of the much anticipated exhibit at U.S. Army Museum. The featured speaker will be Army historian James McNaughton, author of the definitive book Nisei Linguists and one of the foremost experts on the history of MIS. After the ceremony, a luncheon banquet will be held at Hale Koa Hotel. Keynote speaker will be Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Information on the reunion activities, which include some historic military tours, can be found at misveteranshawaii.com.

The nisei veterans never boasted of their contributions to the nation’s victories over the Axis forces during WWII, and nowhere is that more evident than among veterans of Military Intelligence Service. Today, thanks to the efforts of MIS Veterans Club members and their descendants and supporters, MIS nisei contributions to the war effort, their role in fighting racial discrimination during and after the war, and their leadership in building modern Hawaii are receiving well-deserved and long-overdue recognition.

Since our focus is on the military, let me offer one more insight: Much speculation has been taking place regarding the possible reduction of U.S. Army personnel at Schofield Barracks and the negative economic impact it will have on our state if that were to happen. Compounding all this angst is the U.S. Senate loss of Sens. Inouye and Akaka, whose seniority and key committee assignments enabled them to argue effectively for keeping a strong military presence in the 50th state. Although our congressional delegation is relatively new in their assignments on Capitol Hill, keep in mind that three of them sit on the Armed Services Committee and the fourth has a coveted seat on Senate Appropriations, where he has a vote on the subcommittee on Defense. I, therefore, have a very sanguine view that Hawaii’s concerns will not be dismissed so readily on an issue of extreme importance to our state because we operate from a position of strength by virtue of our delegation’s key committee assignments in Washington.