PBS tells story of WWII U.S. intelligence service
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer
Another left the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team to serve as an interpreter during battles in the Pacific, helping to flush from Iwo Jima's caves Japanese soldiers who had accepted the fact that they were on a one-way mission, each intending to take 10 U.S. soldiers along as they themselves faced certain death.
Another translated and served as interpreter in Burma, but had to have a bodyguard with him at all times to protect him from attack by soldiers on his own side.
They are the Asian American soldiers who served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service, helping their country win a war against an enemy who looked a lot like them.
"Uncommon Courage: Patriotism and Civil Liberties," a documentary produced by independent Northern California filmmaker gayle yamada (who prefers the lower-case spelling of her name), tells the stories of Nisei and Japan-schooled (kibei) intelligence specialists, many of whom were recruited from internment camps, or, as she calls them, "imprisonment camps." The film airs next week on PBS.
The presentation focuses on the paradox of these Japanese Americans mostly on the Mainland whose civil rights were violated by Executive Order 9066 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, only to then be recruited to fight for their country, showing "uncommon courage when their patriotism was being questioned," as the narrator says.
Hawai'i's soldiers figure prominently in this documentary, which was previewed in part at a recent Japanese Cultural Center event, a program the center calls its Living History Series.
"I could have done an entire documentary just on the Hawaiians," yamada said.
At the event last week, three Hawai'i veterans of the intelligence service regaled the audience with their stories of service: Takejiro Higa, a former Internal Revenue Service employee; Hideto Kono, former director of the state Department of Planning and Economic Development during the administration of Gov. George Ariyoshi (also an intelligence service veteran); and Ted Tsukiyama, a retired lawyer and arbitrator awarded a decoration by the government of Japan, who now serves as intelligence service historian.
The Hawai'i-born Higa talked of living from age 2 to 14 on Okinawa, then being called back to Hawai'i by his older sister before he could be drafted into th Japanese army.
Higa joined the U.S. military as a 17-year-old Farrington High School student and was sent directly from the warm tropics to the Military Intelligence Service school in Minnesota. His brother, an ROTC member who had returned to the Islands long before "Junior," also volunteered, and the two shared a tent at Camp Savage. But while his brother was working furiously to learn Japanese, the younger Higa was up nights in the latrine, cramming to become more proficient in English.
Higa's stories of the Battle of Okinawa won't be seen in the documentary, said producer-director-writer yamada, but not for lack of interest.
"Mr. Higa has a great story," said yamada, who had flown to Hawai'i to interview several intelligence service veterans. "I was planning to interview him, but he went into the hospital the day after I arrived."
Hawai'i residents who were included in the documentary were: Sen. Daniel Inouye, Tsukiyama, Kazuo Yamane and Don Okubo.
It wasn't yamada's first visit to Hawai'i. She lived here briefly years ago, and came for the 1997 veterans' reunion that brought together members of the 442nd, the intelligence service and the 100th Infantry Battalion. The event gave her an opportunity to meet men who, in some cases, were looking at their first and last chance to pass along their stories of patriotism under the most trying circumstances; many have died since then.
The Hawai'i screening brought a few laughs the filmmaker might not have expected, especially when it pointed out differences between the Mainland Japanese Americans and the contingent from Hawai'i. At one point, the narrator remarks that the Mainlanders at the intelligence service's Japanese language school "spoke better English" than their Island brethren.
|T-3 Harry Fukuhara interrogates a Japanese prisonor of war at Aitape, New Guinea, on April 22, 1944.|
The filmmaker had a personal reason to explore this segment of history: All her relatives were sent to internment camps, and her father was drafted into the intelligence service. "This was a great chance to see what my father had done," yamada said.
About 6,000 Asian Americans served in the intelligence service, a group whose very existence remained a military secret until the end of the war, with details not released until the 1970s. At last week's Living History Series meeting, Tsukiyama told the crowd there was no recorded incident of disloyalty by an American of Japanese ancestry who served in the intelligence, though nine were killed in action and another 10 more died in a plane crash on Okinawa.
These are some of the same U.S. soldiers who were ordered to dress in Japanese uniforms to demonstrate for the other soldiers "what their enemy looks like."
Nearly 60 years later, Kono waved his hand dismissively when he told the crowd that, yes, of course there was discrimination during his days in the intelligence service.
"We forgive them for their ignorance," he said.
Army historian compiling book on AJAs in intelligence service
James C. McNaughton, the command historian for the U.S. Army Pacific, is working on a book about the Nisei who served in the Military Intelligence Service.
"I've been working on it on and off since 1994," he said Tuesday from Fort Shafter, "which means it's long overdue."
The book has been accepted by the Army for publication as part of a series of official histories, available to the public through the U.S. Printing Office. He's hoping to have it written by the end of the year, though publication is expected to take several more years. McNaughton has completed most of his research and is not seeking new contacts.
"Whenever it does get published, I will certainly let the (different groups) know how to get copies of it," he said.
McNaughton arrived in Hawai'i just six weeks ago from Monterey, Calif., where he was command historian for the Defense Language Institute. It was there that he learned about the Military Intelligence Service, which, after several mutations, became the Defense Language Institute.
"The great irony is that the Army ... (picked) the Nisei to be interpreters because they thought they could pick Japanese up faster," he said. But most of the highly westernized second-generation Japanese Americans had to learn the language almost from scratch, he said.