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At Japan’s Doorstep

Above: IWO JIMA, February 23, 1945: Marines from 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, raise the flag atop Mount Suribachi, in a photograph that became a lasting symbol of the war in the Pacific. The marines from Easy Company, 2/28, raised a small flag when they took Suribachi earlier that day, but the battalion commander ordered a larger flag erected. When AP photographer Joe Rosenthal photographed the second flag-raising, at least two MIS Nisei were among the other U.S. troops near the summit. More than 50 MIS Nisei served with the marines on Iwo Jima. Many deployed from the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area (JICPOA) in Hawaii. Until late in the war, MIS Nisei assigned to JICPOA worked at an annex in a former furniture store on Kapiolani Boulevard. The Navy and Marine Corps needed their services, but didn’t want Japanese Americans in Pearl Harbor. (National Archives photo)


As 1945 dawned, the Allies were on offense everywhere against Imperial Japan. MacArthur’s forces were mopping up in the Philippines. Long-range U.S. bombers were pounding Japan from bases in the Marianas.

Iwo Jima

IWO JIMA, 1945: Nisei language team. From left, Tad Ogawa, Ben Kawamura, George Kawamoto and Tamotsu Koyanagi. (U.S. Army photo)
IWO JIMA, 1945: One of the MIS teams assigned to the Marine Corps in the fight for Iwo Jima. Front row, from left: Goro Igarashi, Ben Hirano, Lieutenant Manny Goldberg, Frank Kami, Ritsuo Tanaka. Standing, from left: Yutaka Masuda, Pat Honda, Raymond Sakata, Hideto Kono, Takamori Oishi, Kunio Takai. (MIS Veterans collection) IWO JIMA, March 9, 1945: Tom Miyagi, MIS linguist with the 5th Marine Division, holds a captured Japanese soldier while marines treat the prisoner’s wounds. U.S. Marine Corps photo
IWO JIMA, March 9, 1945: Tom Miyagi, MIS linguist with the 5th Marine Division, holds a captured Japanese soldier while marines treat the prisoner’s wounds. U.S. Marine Corps photo
IWO JIMA, March 9, 1945: Tom Miyagi, MIS linguist with the 5th Marine Division, holds a captured Japanese soldier while marines treat the prisoner’s wounds. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

In February 1945, U.S. marines landed on Iwo Jima, a small volcanic island that would provide a haven for damaged B-29s and a base for their fighter escorts. MIS teams were with each of the three marine divisions. In the war’s bloodiest fighting to that point, the United States suffered 26,000 casualties, including 6,800 killed; the 20,000 Japanese defenders were wiped out, with the exception of 1,000 who were captured or surrendered, many thanks to the MIS Nisei.

Okinawa

OKINAWA, 1945: Warren Higa, left, of Honolulu, questions a prisoner about Japanese positions. Higa and his brother Takejiro were from Hawaii but went to school on Okinawa. They returned there with the U.S. 96th Infantry Division. U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
OKINAWA, 1945: Warren Higa, left, of Honolulu, questions a prisoner about Japanese positions. Higa and his brother Takejiro were from Hawaii but went to school on Okinawa. They returned there with the U.S. 96th Infantry Division. (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)
MABUNI, Okinawa, June 1945: A Japanese POW calls for his comrades to surrender during the mopping up after the Battle of Okinawa. ational Archives photo
MABUNI, Okinawa, June 1945: A Japanese POW calls for his comrades to surrender during the mopping up after the Battle of Okinawa. (National Archives photo)

Okinawa came next. The battle there began on April 1, 1945, with what some authorities say was the largest amphibious landing of the war. Months of vicious fighting killed almost a quarter million people, including 12,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Okinawan civilians. Hundreds of MIS language specialists were deployed for this climactic battle. So great was the demand that 200 Nisei were pulled out of basic training in Hawaii and sent directly into the battle.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the MIS Language School had outgrown Camp Savage and moved to Fort Snelling.

OKINAWA, July 10, 1945: Lieutenant Wally Amioka of Honolulu, front, with helmet, and a Japanese POW lead an American patrol in search of a band of Japanese holdouts led by a renegade colonel. The patrol succeeded. The holdouts were killed trying to escape. (National Archives photo)
BURMA, 1944: In the jungle near Bhamo, Kenny Yasui, of Los Angeles, uses a loudspeaker to call for Japanese troops to surrender. Yasui earned a Silver Star for capturing 16 Japanese troops on a river island. He swam out to the island with some GIs and, posing as a Japanese colonel, ordered the holdouts into formation and had them turn in their arms. To get back across the river, he had the new POWs pull him on a raft. National Archives photo
BURMA, 1944: In the jungle near Bhamo, Kenny Yasui, of Los Angeles, uses a loudspeaker to call for Japanese troops to surrender. Yasui earned a Silver Star for capturing 16 Japanese troops on a river island. He swam out to the island with some GIs and, posing as a Japanese colonel, ordered the holdouts into formation and had them turn in their arms. To get back across the river, he had the new POWs pull him on a raft. (National Archives photo)

Many other Nisei linguists continued to serve in Guam, the Philippines, China, Burma and dozens of Pacific outposts, everywhere they were needed against a stubborn enemy.

Still others were preparing for Operation Olympic, a massive invasion of Kyushu scheduled for November. And planning had begun for Operation Coronet, the invasion of the Kanto Plain the following spring.

On August 13, 1945, a team of 10 MIS Nisei bound for the pre-Olympic invasion staging with the 11th Airborne Division died in a plane crash on Okinawa. The airfield had been obscured by smoke laid down to foil a Japanese air raid. Japan’s surrender was announced two days later.

Looking Like The Enemy

On Okinawa, an MIS Nisei from Hawaii was separated from his unit and wound up in a bomb crater between U.S. and Japanese positions: “Every time I stuck my head up, both sides would shoot at me. I had a Japanese face and an American uniform.”

Next: Intelligence Coups

Japanese Americans of the Military Intelligence Service during World War II