FORT DERUSSY, Hawaii (Dec. 30, 2014) -- The U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii, here, in Waikiki, has opened "America's Secret Weapon," a colorful new exhibit that tells the little-known story of the 6,000 Japanese Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) in World War II.
These Nisei -- second-generation Americans -- used their knowledge of the enemy's language and culture to save countless lives and shorten the war against Japan.
About half of them were from Hawaii.
The exhibit features Hawaii-born MIS heroes like Hoichi Kubo, who earned the Distinguished Service Cross while serving with the 27th Infantry Division on Saipan, and Dick Hamada, who saved a battalion of Allied troops while serving in Burma with Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Produced on behalf of the MIS Veterans Club of Hawaii, by Mark Matsunaga, Gregg Hirata and Harlan Yuhara, the exhibit includes 80 photographs and dozens of artifacts from veterans, as well as the Army Museum's collection.
"It's a beautiful exhibit, and we plan to show it for at least two years," said Judith Bowman, director of the museum. "We are grateful for the opportunity to tell this very American story," said Matsunaga. "While the 100th Inf. Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team were answering doubts about their loyalties in Europe, there were some skeptics who wondered whether Japanese Americans would fight 'their own kind.' Little did they know that, even before Pearl Harbor, there were Nisei who were doing just that," Matsunaga said.
With one exception, the Navy and Marines refused to enlist Japanese Americans, but by the end of the war, all of the services, as well as Allied commanders, were clamoring for the MIS specialists.
-- Nisei support throughout the Pacific Campaign
From the Aleutians and Guadalcanal to Burma, China, the Philippines and Okinawa, Nisei soldiers of the MIS served in every major campaign in the war against Imperial Japan. They interrogated prisoners, translated documents, intercepted radio traffic, infiltrated enemy positions, flushed caves and served as combat infantrymen.
Some were assigned bodyguards, to prevent them being mistaken and shot by fellow GIs.
"Never in military history did an army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement," said General of the Army Douglas MacArthur of the MIS Nisei.
Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill, whose "Merrill's Marauders" -- the 5307th Composite Group, Provisional, included an MIS team, added more praise.
"As for the value of the Nisei group, I couldn't have gotten along without them. Probably few realized that these boys did everything that an infantryman normally does, plus the extra work of translating, interrogating, etc.," said Merrill. "Also, they were in a most unenviable position as to identity, as almost everyone from the Japanese to the Chinese shot first and identified later."
After the fighting, MIS Nisei translated at the surrender of Japanese forces throughout Asia and the Pacific and during the war crimes trials that followed. Thousands of them served in the occupation of Japan and were instrumental in building a modern democracy and staunch U.S. ally out of the ashes of a defeated Japan.
Many who had come home to the islands joined other veterans in making the case for Hawaii statehood. They included George Ariyoshi, who became the nation's first Asian American governor, and Maj. Gen. Arthur Ishimoto, Hawaii adjutant general, who achieved the highest rank of any World War II Nisei veteran.
Nonetheless, the MIS accomplishments went largely undocumented and unreported.
During the war, they often served in small detachments on temporary assignment to combat units, and they were sworn to secrecy until long after the war.
It wasn't until the year 2000 when the Army awarded them a Presidential Unit Citation.
-- U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii
The U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii is located in historic Battery Randolph, a former Coastal Artillery beachside fortification on the Diamond Head end of Fort DeRussy.
The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, including Veterans Day, July 4th and Memorial Day. Admission is free.
Parking is available in the lot across Kalia Road.