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Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling

Japanese translators at Fort Snelling, 1945. Location no. E448.24 p3 As the U.S. drew closer to war in 1941, a few military officers—notably Lt. Col. John Weckerling and Capt. Kai Rasmussen—realized that there would be a need for Japanese translators in the Pacific. Unfortunately, the military could only find a few soldiers already proficient in Japanese, so Weckerling and Rasmussen began to push for the creation of a language school to intensively train people to be military linguists. This naturally led them to the idea of recruiting Nisei—those of Japanese ancestry but born in the U.S.—who might have some experience with the language already; however, many officers did not believe that the Nisei were American enough and so should not be trusted.

Despite that pressure, Weckerling and Rasmussen put their jobs on the line and got the 4th Army Intelligence School opened in San Francisco on November 1, 1941, where John Aiso, Shigeya Kihara, Akira Oshida, and Tetsuo Imagawa taught fifty-eight Nisei and two Caucasians. A few months later President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that forced the internment or relocation of Japanese families. Because the school was housing Nisei, it had to move or lose nearly all of its students. After a number of other mid-western states declined, Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota agreed to take in the school, so it moved to Camp Savage and changed its name to the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS). Within a couple of years, the school outgrew itself and moved again, this time to Fort Snelling in St. Paul. Eventually MISLS graduated more than 6,000 linguists. Its graduates broke codes, served on the front lines, and even became instructors themselves. Their service in the Pacific theater of World War II was so successful that it prompted Major General Charles Willoughby—General Douglas MacArthur's Chief of Staff for Military 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."

GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:

  • Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the End of World War II: Military Intelligence Service, Northwest Association, September 7-9, 1995, by the Military Intelligence Service National Reunion.
    Seattle, Wash.: The Association, 1995.
    MHS call number: D810.S7 M55 1995n.
  • Japanese-American Veterans of Minnesota, by Edwin M. Nakasone.
    White Bear Lake, Minn.: j-Press Pub., 2002.
    MHS call number: D753.8 .N34 2002.
  • John Aiso and the M.I.S.: Japanese-American Soldiers in the Military Intelligence Service, World War II, edited by Tad Ichinokuchi, assisted by Daniel Aiso.
    Camp Savage and Fort Snelling days on pages 35-59.
    Los Angeles: Military Intelligence Service Club of Southern California, 1988.
    MHS call number: D810.S7 J58 1988.
  • "Loyal Linguists: Nisei of World War II Learned Japanese in Minnesota," by Masaharu Ano.
    In Minnesota History, vol. 45, no. 7 (fall 1977): pages 273-287.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society, 1977.
    MHS call number: Reading Room F601.5 .M66 v.45:7, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
  • Military Intelligence Service Language School
    Bound with Nisei Linguists: Eyes and Ears of Allied Pacific Forces.
    [Minnesota: s.n., 1945?]
    MHS call number: PL521.M55 M55 1945.
  • Military Intelligence Service Language School, U.S. Army, Fort Snelling, Minnesota, by Stone S. Ishimaru.
    Chiefly photographs by Stone S. Ishimaru for a Life magazine assignment in the summer of 1944.
    Los Angeles: TecCom Production, 1991.
    MHS call number: D810. S7 I83 1991.
  • Nisei Linguists: Eyes and Ears of Allied Pacific Forces.
    Bound with Military Intelligence Service Language School.
    [Minnesota: s.n., 1945?]
    MHS call number: PL521.M55 M55 1945.
  • Unsung Heroes: The Military Intelligence Service, Past, Present, Future: The Eyes and Ears of the Allied Forces During and After World War II, by Roy Inui, George Koshi, Mitzi Matsui, Takashi Matsui, and Ken Sato.
    Seattle, Wash: MIS-Northwest Association, 1996.
    MHS call number: D810.S7 U67 1996.

PRIMARY RESOURCES:

  • Fort Snelling Bulletin
    Various issues, 1944-1946, include information on the MISLS.
    Fort Snelling, Minn.: [Garrison of Fort Snelling], 1928-1946.
    MHS call number: Microfilm 1336 (3 reels of microfilm).
  • Headquarter's Golden Gopher
    This is the first issue of the newsletter put out by the MISLS on May 1, 1946. It has articles describing the everyday activities of some of the men, news from in town, bits of humor, and other items. The main article describes the school's upcoming move back to the Presidio in San Francisco.
    MHS call number: Serial 1069.
  • MISLS Album
    This album (1946), published at Fort Snelling near the end of the school's stay there, is a comprehensive yearbook of the first five years of the MISLS, complete with a history of the MISLS, photographs of the commanding officers and school directors, candid shots of the students, and a list of graduates by term since the school's inception.
    MHS call number: D810.S7 M48 1946.
  • Ruth Tanbara Papers
    The papers of Ruth Tanbara contain correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other printed material concerning the internment and relocation of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast, one of the factors that precipitated the move of the MISLS to Minnesota.
    MHS call number: See the green "Alpha" Manuscripts Notebooks-filed alphabetically under Tanbara, Ruth-for more details (there is only one box of material).
  • Yaban Gogai
    Yaban Gogai was the MISLS' overseas publication. It contains updates on the reconstruction of Japan in which the MISLS graduates played a major part, letters from graduates still abroad, addresses for those who have been discharged, as well as other pieces to keep those abroad connected to home and in good spirits.
    MHS call number: Microfilm 903 (1 reel of microfilm).
  • Newspapers that may be useful for this topic:
    • Minneapolis Star
    • Minneapolis Star Journal
    • Minneapolis Tribune (see especially articles on Oct. 23, 1945, page 9; May 27, 1946, page 8; June 8, 1946, page 4)
    • St. Paul Dispatch
    • St. Paul Pioneer Press
  • Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.