MIS Founded 75 Years Ago
This is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941). More importantly, it is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS; Nov. 1, 1941). My wife, Chaplain Madeline Reiko Nobori Tom [photo], was asked to serve as the Chaplain giving the Invocation at the 75th anniversary celebration of the MIS on November 12, 2016, held at Building 640 (where the MIS began) at the Presidio in San Francisco. Madeline’s father, Moriye (Mori) Nobori, served in the MIS. This celebration was also special because only recently has the full impact of the MIS story been told. Due to the secrecy of their activities, Nisei MIS never received the publicity as did their counterparts in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and 100th Infantry Battalion. Madeline’s Uncle Tay (Teruo Nobori) fought with the 442nd in Europe.
The 6,000 MIS soldiers (called by some as America’s secret weapon and Yankee Samurai in WWII) were subsequently deployed to every battle theater in the Pacific war against Japan, serving U.S. and Allied forces. During the war MIS soldiers read, translated, interpreted, and intercepted Japanese communiques; they interrogated, infiltrated, and impersonated Japanese soldiers on the battlefield. According to Major General Charles Willoughby, these Nisei “shortened the Pacific war by two years.” [Photo: A proud MIS Nisei, Warren Eijima, age 95]
Unlike other combatants in the war, the Nisei faced danger from the enemy as well as from American and Allied soldiers who viewed them with suspicion and too easily mistook them for the enemy. According to John Aiso, an MIS veteran, “We may have been the only soldiers in history to have bodyguards to protect us from our own forces in combat zones so we would not be mistaken for the enemy.” The relationship between Nisei and the Japanese enemy was much like the combatants during the American Civil War where opponents may be brothers, relatives, and friends. During the Battle of Okinawa, Takejiro Higa unexpectedly encountered two of his childhood friends as well as his grade school teacher, who was shocked to see one of his former students with the U.S. forces.
The initial use of the Nisei in battle was very suspect by even U.S. Generals. However, once their value became apparent in supporting strategic and tactical actions by the U.S. and Allied forces, the dissenters became enthusiastic advocates for the Nisei. It was also found that using Nisei as interrogators (with their cultural compatibility with the enemy) was far superior than using them as interpreters. The value of ‘captured’ information also changed the way Marines were viewing the enemy. A dead enemy became a wasted resource, so taking prisoners for intelligence was favored to just killing them.
During one patrol, the Japanese plans were intercepted by the Nisei translator, so the American troops were able to ambush the first wave of enemy troops. A second wave saw the firefight and did not move forward. Roy Matsumoto, the embedded Nisei, stood up and in Japanese, commanded the second wave to attack. Believing it was one of their commanders from the first wave, the enemy charged forward and were all killed. In total 56 enemy combatants were killed without any American casualties.
In 2000, the U.S. Government awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the military’s highest unit decoration, to all members of the MIS who served in WWII. On October 5, 2010, President Barack Obama signed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal, the Nation’s highest civilian award to the soldiers of the MIS, the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) for their extraordinary accomplishments in WWII.
Madeline’s uncle Tay was part of the force assigned to rescue 211 members of the Texas Battalion (Oct. 27-30, 1944). The fight to rescue the Texans cost the 442nd 600 dead and 200 wounded/lost. Tay Nobori was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery. It was the most brutal battle in WWII by any U.S. force. A week after that battle, Regimental Commander General Dahlquist ordered the entire 442nd to stand in formation for a ceremony, and seeing only 18 men in K Company and 8 in another, demanded of Colonel Virgil R. Miller, “I want all your men to stand for this formation.” Miller responded, “That’s all of K company left, sir.” (A company has 80-250 soldiers.)
“The 442nd RCT was the most decorated unit in the history of American warfare. The 4,000 men who initially made up the unit in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts. The unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (five earned in one month). Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor. Its motto was “Go for Broke”. (Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/442nd_Infantry_Regiment_%28United_States%29#cite_note-Asahina2007-4)
I’m very proud to have known Madeline’s father and uncle. I honor them both for their dedication and sacrifice!
A comprehensive history (534 pages) of the MIS was commissioned by the Army and has been published (Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service, 2006;
Free pdf download: http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/nisei_linguists/CMH_70-99-1.pdf).
The U.S. military’s premier language school in Monterey, CA, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, traces its beginnings to the MIS. [Photo: Chaplain Madeline with Colonel Phillip J. Deppert, Commandant of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) and Presidio of Monterrey, CA.]
© Dr. Baldwin H Tom, FIMC