PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - An exhibit highlighting the history and legacy of Japanese language translators during World War II was unveiled by Command Historian Cameron Binkley and Defense Language Institute Commandant Col. Gary Hausman at the Presidio of Monterey's Aiso Library, Jan. 28.
Featured in the exhibit is the samurai-style sword of Lt. Col. Richard Sakakida, a Japanese American U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps agent who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Sakakida was fluent in Japanese and his translation skills likely kept him alive despite the mental and physical torture he endured during the war.
"Sakakida was an American spy, planted in the Philippines right before Pearl Harbor," said Brian Shiroyama, President of the Friends and Family of Nisei Veterans, who presented the sword to the DLI on behalf of the Sakakida family.
In 1941, the Philippines were a protectorate of the United States. The spread of the Empire of Japan led American forces to deploy bilingual soldiers as covert intelligence gatherers. Sakakida's mission was to pose as a merchant marine who jumped ship and then blend into Philippine society. Following the outbreak of war and subsequent Japanese invasion, Sakakida rejoined U.S. Army forces during the American retreat.
"After Pearl Harbor, American forces took Japanese prisoners, so Richard was used to interrogate prisoners, but soon the situation changed," said Shiroyama.
On May 6, 1942, Sakakida accompanied General Jonathan Wainwright, Allied commander in the Philippines, to the surrender negotiations as his interpreter following America's loss at the Battle of the Philippines.
According to Shiroyama, at the negotiations a Japanese soldier recognized Sakakida as the man who interrogated him earlier in the war. The Japanese military then took Sakakida into custody. He would be one of only two Japanese American soldiers taken as a prisoner of war during World War II.
In December 1944, after years of torture and being forced to translate documents for the Japanese, Sakakida escaped and hid in the jungle until finally reestablishing contact with American soldiers in September 1945, two weeks after the end of the war.
During his life, Sakakida conveyed his concerns about reestablishing contact with the U.S. forces, "I was afraid that when I reach the Allied line, I'm gonna get shot, because I look like the enemy."
After returning to the U.S. Army he was promoted to master sergeant and interpreted at the war trials of Japanese officers in the Philippines. In 1947 he was commissioned as an officer before splitting off with the newly formed US Air Force where he eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring in 1975 after 34 years of military service. He spent much of his air force career in Japan. As a token of respect for his record of service, Sakakida received the ceremonial sword that now rests on permanent display at DLI.
"The spirit of 'Duty, Honor and Country' (he) lived by is best exemplified by something which all samurai carried and treasured - the sword," said Shiroyama.
The text of the exhibit label reads, 'The sword of Lt. Col. Richard Sakakida embodies this tradition and represents the many Japanese American military linguists who served across the Pacific Theater in World War II. They risked death by combat, after capture by Japanese forces - who often saw them as traitors, or by friendly fire due to mistaken identity.'
"DLI is very proud to be able to display this honorable sword," said DLI Hausman during the unveiling.
Accompanying Sakakida's sword are intercepted documents and confiscated items including a Japanese rifle, bayonet and helmet. These items represent the work translators would have performed as part of their regular duties and the tangible results their efforts could produce.
The Military Intelligence Service Language School, later renamed the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, was founded as a Japanese language school for military linguists during World War II. Japanese American translators who served during the war were later given the moniker 'Yankee Samurai', and many of them were Nisei, or second-generation Americans whose parents were born in Japan. After the war, DLI quickly expanded to offer dozens of languages. But even before the establishment of the school linguists have always proven essential to the Army's mission.
"The Sakakida family felt that this sword could serve as yet another symbol of proud legacy of the MIS and that the DLI would be the best place." said Shiroyama. "Thank you very much for such a wonderful job that you've done in displaying this."