SAN FRANCISCO — An agreement was signed May 26 between the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) and the Presidio Trust to rehabilitate Building 640 in the Presidio of San Francisco for reuse as the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center (MISHLC)
Building 640, a former warehouse located along Crissy Field, is the site of the first Military Intelligence Service Language School organized in November 1941 on the eve of World War II to train 58 Nikkei and two Caucasian U.S. Army personnel as soldier linguists to serve in the Pacific Theater.
“This is an American story,” explained NJAHS board member and MIS veteran Marvin Uratsu, whose late brother Gene was a member of the first class. “It is told by those who served their country in a time that the U.S. Constitution was really tested. As Japanese Americans we chose these paths in the hope that our America could become ‘a more perfect union’.”
A special ceremony will be held on Memorial Day, May 30, at 9:30 a.m. at the Building 640 site to celebrate this historic agreement. Call NJAHS at (415) 921-5007 or email [email protected] for more information on the ceremony.
Set in the foreground of the Golden Gate Bridge, the 10,000-square-foot MISHLC will feature exhibits and ongoing public programs devoted to sharing the MIS story and exploring the lessons learned from this experience. As the permanent memorial of the contributions of the 6,000-plus MIS graduates trained at the Presidio, Camp Savage (Minn.) and Fort Snelling (Minn.) MIS Language School sites, there will be a Wall of Honor displaying their names. As such it will be the international center for the MIS legacy of patriotism, sacrifice, compassion and peace. The MISHLC is expected to open in 2012.
“This is indeed a momentous step forward in our joint effort to give the MIS story its proper place of importance in US history, share important lessons learned and celebrate the achievements of these truly great Americans,” commented NJAHS President Judge Ken Kawaichi (retired).
The Learning Center project, which NJAHS and MIS Norcal — an organization established by MIS veterans — initiated in 1991, is now a joint project of NJAHS, the Trust and the National Park Service/Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Because it tells an important American story, the project has gained strong support from Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Mike Honda (D-San Jose).
“The MIS Historical Learning Center will tell the world of our experience fighting three wars: the enemy abroad, racial prejudice back home, and another one: we had to prove our loyalty in the field of battle,” said Col. Thomas Sakamoto (retired), a member of the first class of MIS graduates at Building 640.
“I am so pleased to sign the agreement with the NJAHS for the reuse of Building 640 as a Military Intelligence Historic Learning Center,” said Craig Middleton, Presidio Trust executive director. “The MIS story is part of the Presidio’s legacy of service. It is fitting that we are celebrating this agreement on Memorial Day; I can’t think of a better way to honor the service of the MIS veterans.”
Background on the MIS
On the eve of war with Japan in November 1941, the U.S. Army secretly recruited enlisted Japanese American soldiers and trained them as military linguists for the coming war. The first class of these linguists was trained at Building 640 in the Presidio of San Francisco. With the implementation of Executive Order 9066, which removed Japanese Americans from the West Coast, the school was first moved to Camp Savage and then to Fort Snelling, both in Minnesota.
Attached to every combat unit in the Pacific War, these MIS soldier linguists translated documents, intercepted intelligence, impersonated the enemy in battle, gathered key intelligence from prisoners of war, and ultimately helped American and Allied forces win the war in the Pacific.
After the war, MIS soldiers help effect the peaceful transition during the U.S. occupation of Japan. As “grassroots” ambassadors, they helped lay the groundwork for Japan’s democracy.
For more information, visit www.njahs.org.