The U.S. recruited Japanese speaking Nisei before Pearl Harbor

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In July 1941, newly drafted Army Pvt. Masaji "Gene" Uratsu received an unusual request during basic training: Report to division headquarters. There, a captain pulled him into a room and asked the farm boy to translate a Japanese textbook and Japanese military field guide. Nervously, Uratsu -- who was born in the United States but had studied in Japan as a child -- stumbled through the translation. He read aloud, feeling like a mouse cornered by a cat. After Uratsu finished, the captain said to tell no one -- or face a court martial.

Months later, Uratsu was told to report to San Francisco's Presidio along with three other Japanese American privates. At the military post, rumors abounded among the dozens of Japanese American rank-and-file soldiers. Organized to fight a suicide mission? Assigned to wash dishes and do menial jobs?

On Nov. 1, they learned the truth: They were enrolled in a secret Japanese language school to train military interrogators and translators. Though Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was more than a month away, deteriorating relations between the two countries had prompted the War Department to comb the Army ranks for potential linguists. They were known as nisei, the American-born children of immigrants.

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Vernon Clayson - 6/14/2007

Getting up to speed on the Japanese language was a little late in the game as military figures such as Billy Mitchell forecast as early as the 1920's that we would be attacked by Japan at Hawaii. He was correct -and ignored. This comes up now only because we are short of linguists who speak the languages of the Middle East. For those unaware of such things, we rushed many individuals itto learning Vietnamese in the 60's and 70's, why is it so noteworthy that we we should have people who could translate Japanese in the 1940's.