Film hails niseiNumerous small units of nisei soldiers operated quietly with Allied troops in the Pacific war, moving with them from Guadalcanal to the occupation of Japan, saving countess lives and helping to end the war.
in Pacific war
The documentary tells the
heroic story of those in the
Military Intelligence Service
By Gregg K. Kakesako
The heroics of the Military Intelligence Service are told in the documentary "Uncommon Courage: Patriotism and Civil Liberties."
The film also deals with the paradox of these soldiers -- American citizens by birth, serving their country while agonizing over the meaning of freedom, civil rights, duties and allegiance to a government that had labeled them as enemy aliens, confiscated their property and relocated them from their homes on the West Coast to internment camps.
The documentary, produced by California filmmaker Gayle Yamada, will be shown at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii at 7 p.m. July 31 and will be broadcast on Hawaii Public Television at 8 p.m. Aug. 16. It is narrated by former ABC journalist and local anchor Ken Kashiwahara.
Yamada said that during the 20 months she made the film, she learned of injustice, unfairness and bitterness.
"But ultimately, far more valuable lessons came forth -- of triumph despite adversity, of hope, of strength and of love of family, of gabatte, the Japanese word meaning ... 'do your best in spite of difficulties; persevere.'"
More than 6,000 second-generation Japanese Americans, or nisei, served in the MIS as interpreters, interrogators and translators for Army and Navy units, but until recently these "shadow warriors" received almost no recognition because their services were cloaked in secrecy, according to former Army Secretary Louis Caldera.
Through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, the soldiers were awarded a presidential unit citation last year for "extraordinary heroism," covering their service from May 1942 to September 1945.
Since the MIS never fought in combat as a unit, Akaka had to enact special congressional legislation. He also persuaded the Army to develop an official history of the unit.
The achievement will be recognized at an 11 a.m. banquet Aug. 11 at the Hawai'i Convention Center. Adm. Dennis Blair, head of the Pacific Command, will be the guest speaker.
The MIS film -- with interviews with U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki and nearly two dozen MIS veterans -- premiered on PBS stations in Sacramento, San Francisco and Fresno on May 31.
Yamada said she hopes the film will be shown by PBS television nationwide in the future.
In 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor, 58 Japanese Americans were selected by the Army for Japanese language training.
They began classes in an abandoned aircraft hangar at San Francisco's Presidio under heavy secrecy. This was the first class of the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service Language School.
After Pearl Harbor more than 6,000 were recruited, drafted and volunteered to be Japanese language linguists in the Pacific Theater. Many of them volunteered from internment camps.
The decision to volunteer or be recruited from behind barbed wire was not an easy one. Some found themselves fighting against their own relatives in Japan. They were despised by those who felt betrayed by their own American government. Many had to leave the camps at night.
As soldiers their duties included interrogating Japanese prisoners, intercepting transmissions, translating documents, infiltrating enemy lines and, in many instances, performing far beyond the call of duty.
The MIS -- operating individually or in small groups of 10 to 20 men -- was attached to U.S., Australian, New Zealand, English and Chinese combat units. They were members of elite combat units such as Merrill's Marauders and the Office of Strategic Services.
Others served in intelligence centers at Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters, also known as the Allied Translator Interpreter Section, in Brisbane, Australia; Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area, in Hawaii; and Southeast Asia Translation and Interrogation Center in New Delhi.
The MIS is also credited with providing information that enabled U.S. forces to shoot down hundreds of Japanese aircraft during the Battle of the Philippine Sea and translating documents for the Manhattan Project, the U.S. program to develop an atomic bomb.
More information on the Aug. 11 banquet can be obtained by calling Bob Honke at 373-4146. The lunch will cost $35.