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Minnesota warmly welcomed Japanese-Americans during war

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Posted: Wednesday, September 29, 2004 12:00 am

NAWILIWILI — It was 60 years and two generations ago, but Norman Hashisaka of Kalaheo still remembers fondly how a community, town and state warmly received he and other Americans of Japanese ancestry when much of the rest of the country was openly suspicious of them.

The Military Intelligence Service Language School established near Bloomington, Minn., which trained Hashisaka, Big Save founder H.S. Kawakami (Judge Benjamin Tashiro was an instructor there) and other Kauaians and Hawaiians in the Japanese language, was successful there because the populace accepted them, inviting them into their homes and to picnics, and showing no prejudice towards the visitors, Hashisaka recalled.

The men trained there went directly to war zones in the Pacific after completing their intense training — some even behind enemy lines — and were credited by members of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff with shortening World War II in the Pacific by two years because of their skill at breaking Japanese code, intercepting and translating radio and telegraph transmissions, interrogating prisoners, and translating documents including orders, diaries and maps.

All of this was happening at a time when most of their fellow countrymen looked at them with distrust, and some of their parents and other family members were imprisoned in internment camps.

The year Hashisaka joined the U.S. Army, 1944, the former commandant of the Military Intelligence Service in California determined it was not safe for the Japanese-Americans to stay there, and began contacting officials in other states to see how receptive they would be to hosting an MIS language school. Representatives of most states said "no," but the Minnesota governor said "yes."

So, it was from Honolulu to Bloomington for Hashisaka, then 18 (now 79). Before arriving in Minnesota, he had never seen snow before. "It was quite an experience," staying in a barracks with pot-bellied, coal-burning stoves for heat, and on some days having a hard time getting the barracks doors open because drifted snow had piled up outside them.

Camp Savage was a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp converted into the MIS Language School. When the first recruits arrived, there were no desks or beds. The camp quickly outgrew its useful life, so the recruits moved to nearby Fort Snelling.

Norman and Mabel Hashisaka of Kalaheo recently returned from Bloomington, where they attended the 61st anniversary services of the establishment of MIS Language School. There, they found a plaque, monument, flag and one building was all that was left of Camp Savage. It had been a sprawling, 12-building complex including a large theater, Norman Hashisaka said.

Fort Snelling was also abandoned, in a state of disrepair. "It's kind of sad it's no longer in use. A lot of MIS students went through there." It was their last station before going overseas, Norman Hashisaka said.

After their training, the men were assigned to small groups of around 10, and attached to different allied units in the Pacific, where they forwarded their captured intelligence to higher ups who put it to beneficial use. In no other war did the Americans know more about the enemy before engaging them than World War II, MacArthur said. And it was because of the work of Hashisaka and other MIS members that MacArthur and other U.S. leaders knew so much about their Japanese foes.

Which prompted Mabel Hashisaka to ask, "Why didn't they do the same with Iraq?"

After the formal end of the war, Hashisaka and others remained in Japan to help re-frame the Japan constitution, re-formulate the country's education and governance system, and serve as translators during war-crimes trials in Tokyo and Yokohama. They also continued counter-intelligence duties against Communist-trained Japanese soldiers in Hokkaido and other areas. "It was a great experience. It was a wonderful experience," Hashisaka said.

In Bloomington a few weeks ago, the Hashisakas carried orchids which were used to decorate tables for a Sukiyaki Sunday dinner the weekend of the services to honor the MIS veterans. They also carried a haku lei for Dr. Katherine Hiyane-Brown, president of Normandale Community College where the Normandale Japanese Garden is located.

The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Hiyane of Kapa‘a wore the lei when she gave her prepared remarks at the ceremonies in the garden. Members of the Hawai‘i MIS veterans group, including Hashisaka, donated funds toward the construction of a bentendo and bridge that are the focal point of the sprawling garden.

The bentendo is a place of rest for royalty, a thatched-roofed structure designed by Takao Watanabe of Tokyo and dedicated in 1976. "And it really looks like Japan," Mabel Hashisaka said.

Edwin M. Nakasone, president of the Japanese American Veterans of Minnesota and the brother of Nancy Blalock of Wailua Homesteads, delivered the keynote address. He spoke about the welcome the Japanese-Americans received in Minnesota, and how that aloha helped prepare them for the rigorous tasks that lay ahead of them. Dr. Lani Tashiro Bennett, daughter of the late Judge Benjamin and Gladys Tashiro of Kalaheo, represented her father at the ceremonies.

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