Historian details role of Japanese-Americans in WWII, will speak here ThursdayMinnesota had no internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, but the state was an important part of the story.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
Minnesota had no internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, but the state was an important part of the story.
The Military Intelligence Service operated a school at Fort Snelling where Americans of Japanese ancestry were trained to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces as interpreters and translators.
Patricia Miye Wakida, a historian from Los Angeles who is in residence this month at the Anderson Center, will tell stories about the internment camps and Minnesota’s role Sept. 27 at the Goodhue County History Center. Free and open to the public, the program will start at 7 p.m.
Wakida will give a brief overview of the tensions that existed in both America and Japan leading up to December 1941. She will address, “How did we start moving into war?”
Entering the war led to the forced removal of about 110,000 Japanese-Americans from their homes on the West Coast — mostly California, Oregon and Washington. Most Japanese-Americans living in other parts of the country were not affected.
Wakida explaianed that after Pearl Harbor, the FBI began picking up Germans, Italians and Japanese people and sending them to Justice Department camps around the country.
The big difference, she said, is that those individuals were put on trial and had a chance to defend themselves against charges such as espionage, while the Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps did not get trials.
“They were presumed guilty of something.” They looked like the enemy, she said, and there was a feeling that “We’re not sure we can trust you.”
Wakida will describe life in the camps. She is a fourth-generation American — her great-grandparents were from Hiroshima — and at 42 has no living memory of the war. But her grandparents and parents all were interned.
She’ll also detail Minnesota’s unusual role.
“Very few people know that Japanese-Americans eventually were allowed back into the U.S. Army,” she said. In 1943 some were drafted and many enlisted, although it was a source of controversy among the interned Japanese-Americans: “Do I fight for this country or not?”
Among roles for these soldiers was serving as translators and interpreters. As early as 1941, Wakida said, the Army tried to find people who spoke Japanese and could listen to coded messages, interrogate prisoners of war, read maps and do other tasks that required knowledge of the language.
The Army’s Military Intelligence Service started a school in San Francisco in 1941, but when all the Japanese were taken away to internment camps, the school moved to Minnesota, which was known for its tolerance.
The school originally was “Camp Savage,” Wakida said, but as it grew the Army moved it to Fort Snelling. She will show images from the 1940s. Information about the school also can be found today at Fort Snelling or on its Website.
After completing school, the Japanese-American soldiers were sent into combat in the Pacific and after the war some were shipped to Tokyo to serve during as translators and cultural advisors during the occupation.
Many of the photos in Wakida’s slide presentation came from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where she works. Last spring, she noted, about 100 of those men traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive congressional medals for their service.
During her month residency at the Anderson Center, Wakida is working on a biography of Shigeyoshi “Shig” Murao, who was an important “beat generation” character in San Francisco after the war.
During the 1940s, he was among the Japanese language students trained at Fort Snelling; a chapter of her book details his experiences with the Military Intelligence Service.
For more information about the presentation, call the Anderson Center at 651-388-2009.