This image shows the original classroom of the Fourth Army
This image shows the original classroom of the Fourth Army Intelligence School at the Presidio of San Francisco. The improvised nature of the school's first classroom is demonstrated by the rows of surplus theater seats seen in the foreground.

On 1 November 1941, just weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, 60
Japanese-American students began a six-month course in the Japanese language
at the Fourth Army Intelligence School, Presidio of San Francisco. War
Department officials had secretly begun to recruit Japanese-Americans as
interpreters and translators as early as the summer of 1941. What they
found, however, was of the approximately 3,700 Japanese-Americans already in
military service, less than ten percent could read or speak more than a few
words of the Japanese language.

Intelligence officials quickly formed the Fourth Army Intelligence School to
bring the recruits' language skills up to the required level. Curriculum
and texts were hastily developed from scratch and an abandoned airplane
hangar on Crissy Field was commandeered for a classroom. Students were
selected through interviews with intelligence officers or with Selective
Service officials at the time they were drafted. While many of the Nisei
(second-generation Japanese-Americans) students had absorbed an appreciation
of Japanese culture and society from their parents, the students struggled
to learn the language. The course was grueling and the days were long.
William Nuno, a student in the first class, wrote in a letter to his
brother, "Boy, the studies here are getting terrific and the strain is
gradually taking its toll.How would you like to study a language all day
long, then study all night long 'til midnight or even later?" Nuno
specifically mentioned the difficulty of learning the Japanese military
terminology that was a focus of the class.

In May 1942, the first 45 students graduated from the school. Thirty-five
immediately deployed to Alaska and the Southwest Pacific area. The others
became instructors at the new Military Intelligence Service Language School
(MISLS) at Camp Savage, Minnesota, where the school moved following the
evacuation order relocating all Japanese Americans on the West Coast into
camps. The MISLS continued to operate throughout the war, graduating more
than 6,000 Nisei who went on to serve as Japanese-language
translators/interpreters with the Military Intelligence Service (MIS)
throughout the Pacific Theater.

Page last updated Fri October 26th, 2012 at 00:00