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Friday, June 30, 2000

Nisei linguists to be
cited for WWII work

By Gregg K. Kakesako


More than 6,000 second-generation Japanese Americans, whose work as Pacific theater linguists in World War II went virtually unnoticed, are finally getting their recognition.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric "Ric" Shinseki will present members of the Military Intelligence Service with the Presidential Unit Citation tonight in Monterey, Calif., at the 36th biennial national convention of the Japanese American Citizens League.

Retired Army Col. Iwao Yokooji, president of the Hawaii MIS chapter, said he was "overwhelmed" by the Army's move, and praised Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka for making the award possible.

It was Akaka who also initiated congressional legislation that resulted in 22 Asian Americans, 20 of them members of the famed 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, getting the Medal of Honor last week.

"Nobody expected anything like this," Yokooji said. "This is because the MIS were scattered throughout the Pacific in small teams and not a member of one unified unit like the 100th or the 442nd."


The Army said that despite their significant contributions in World War II, the members of the MIS were ineligible because they were never deployed as a unit -- until Akaka's 1997 law permitted the Army to consider the linguists.

Akaka said those "shadow warriors ... helped change the course of history and helped preserve a world in which the ideals of freedom and individual rights could flourish."

Akaka pointed out that MIS furnished Japanese-based language support to combat units fighting in the Pacific and provided intelligence service in every major battle and campaign in the Pacific.

Maj. Gen. Charles Willouby, Gen. Douglas MacArthur's chief of staff, said the contributions by the MIS "saved countless lives and shortened the war by two years."

The soldiers of the MIS were drawn out of the ranks for the 100th/442nd because of their language skills and went into battle in 1942, preceding the 100th by almost a year.

They served with Merrill's Marauders in Burma, encouraged Japanese soldiers to release captive civilians on Saipan, and intercepted a radio message that led to the downing of the plane carrying Adm. Isoruku Yamamoto, architect of the Pearl Harbor attack.

During the occupation of Japan, Sohei Yamate of Hilo served as an escort and guard for Gen. Hideki Tojo, the Japanese premier who led his country to war, in Tokyo's Sugamo Prison.

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