Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: October 26, 2006

Walter Tanaka and Lawson Sakai

Speaker Photo

Walter Tanaka: MIS (Military Intelligence Service) in South Pacific and Korea, and Lawson Sakai: "E" Company, 2nd Bn. 442nd RCT Walter Tanaka: MIS (Military Intelligence Service) in South Pacific and Korea
* His parents, Issei, the first generation of Japanese immigrants to any country, came to US looking for a better life, but were discriminated against and could not become citizens.
* Before Pearl Harbor, Walter volunteered in June 1941 for active duty in US Army - Camp Roberts and Ft. Ord.
* Assigned to 5th Air Force in New Guinea and Philippine Islands as an interpreter and interrogator of Japanese aviation crew members.
* Promoted to 2nd Lt. and remained in Army after WWII.
* Assigned to 1st Cavalry Division at ourset of Korean War.
* Remained a linguist in Counter intelligence in Army until retirement as a Major in 1961.

Lawson Sakai: "E" Company, 2nd Bn. 442nd RCT
* Volunteered to enlist in US Navy on December 8,1941 at Long Beach with classmates following Pearl Harbor - caucasian classmates accepted, second generation Nisei were given 4C classification as enemy aliens.
* March 1,1941, Nisei allowed to join only the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which chose the motto "Go For Broke".
* The 100th Battalion, an Hawaii National Guard unit, consisting also of Nisei, had already been activated, trained at Camp Savage, and sent to North Africa to join the 34th Div.
* 442nd was trucked north and fought along the Italian coast, then participated in landing at Marseilles, France in August of 1944, two months after D-Day in Normandy.
* The Regiment's Artillery Bn. participated in the liberation of Dacau Concentration Camp outside of Munich at the end of the war.
* The 442nd R C T was the most highly decorated American unit in WWII with Lawson, just an extraordinary soldier, receiving the CIB, Bronze Star, and four Purple Hearts.

Nisei Who Helped Win the War

About one month before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army secretly set up a Japanese language school at Crissy Field in San Francisco. This was the beginning of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), a group of 6,000 soldiers who were interpreters, linguists and interrogators in the war against Japan and reconstruction of post-war Japan to preserve democracy. More than half of those in the MIS were attached to combat units.
The impact this group of Japanese-Americans would have on the Pacific War was summed up by the following quote from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who stated, “Never in military history did an army know so much about the enemy prior to an engagement.”
The MIS and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team provided Japanese-Americans the opportunity to fight for their country in World War II. The Golden Gate Wing heard in October from two men who volunteered for these opportunities.

Military Intelligence Service

Walter Tanaka was born in Watsonville, California in 1918. In June of 1941, six months before the U.S. entered the war, Tanaka was drafted into the Army. He’d completed basic training in infantry heavy weapons at Camp Roberts and joined a combat unit at Fort Ord. Tanaka says he spent the night of December 7th, 1941 loading machine gun ammunition belts at the base. The next day, his unit was mobilized to guard the coast near Santa Rosa. A few days later the Army removed Tanaka from combat duty.
“My entire family, my brothers and sisters, and my parents—citizens of Japan, but living in San Luis Obispo—were incarcerated in what they called ‘relocation camps’ in Poston, Arizona.
“My father was taken first to a place called Sharp’s Park in New Mexico. He was 17 years of age when he came to the United States, lived all his life in California, was a farmer and he hadn’t done anything to be incarcerated.”

Only a few months earlier, a study had been conducted of the potential threat of Japanese-Americans to the United States should the U.S. and Japan go to war. Although the Munson Report concluded Japanese-Americans would be loyal to the U.S. in such circumstances, the report was not published and was kept secret until after the war, in 1946.
Instead, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, arrests were made of leaders in Japanese-American communities, and the U.S. Army discharged Japanese-American soldiers already in service, classifying them as “enemy alien”.
On February 19, 1942 Executive Order 9066 was signed, leading to the removal of 120,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast and sending them to internment camps. Nearly two-thirds of these displaced people were full citizens, who nevertheless lost their property and had their families sent off to camps.
Walter Tanaka was denied a visit to his family… but he did volunteer to become a military translator and was sent to Camp Savage, Minnesota for training before being shipped to the southwest Pacific to serve with the 5th Air Force, as it leapfrogged up the east coast of New Guinea and to the Philippines.
Tanaka interrogated Japanese prisoners of war, most downed pilots, in the Pacific, using no more coercion than offering cigarettes or candy.
“In no case at any time were we to torture. We interrogated. If they tried to falsify answers to the questions we asked, or refused to answer, we just put them back in the cell. A prisoner in a cell, they’d finally want to talk.  They wanted to talk to somebody anyway. Eventually they would talk.
“A lot of times as an interrogator you’d ask questions about the enemy strength, location and their commanding officer. Many times we’d already know the answer, but you’d ask it anyway. And then eventually they’d feel what’s the use in holding back. The prisoner would give us the proper answers. “
 Interrogations early in the war, he says, were of POWs who were arrogant. But as the war progressed prisoners of war lost their cockiness, becoming submissive before Allied interrogators and translators.
In early August, 1945, Tanaka was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and picked as a member of a select team of interpreter/translators who were flown into Atsugi, Japan, preceding Gen. MacArthur’s arrival and military occupation of the island nation.
And as such, Tanaka was the first member of his family to see his parents’ homeland since they had left Japan at the turn of the century.
“I went to the occupation of Japan, and I took time to go down to Kyoto, where my mother had lived. She never went back. My dad had come to the United States from Kyushu in 1900.”
Among his official duties, Tanaka interrogated Japanese Premier Gen.Hideki Tojo, as well as the Japanese Army officer responsible for the infamous Bataan Death March, Lt. General Masaharu Homma.
“After Japan was defeated, Tojo was submissive. He was one of the Japanese leaders apprehended for war crimes… was tried, sentenced to death and was eventually executed.”
During World War II, MIS interpreters, translators and linguists were responsible for many Allied successes in the Pacific, among them—translation of the intercepted message that reveals the route and timetable for Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto for his inspection tour of Bougainville; translation of the Z-Plan, the Japanese Navy’s defensive strategy for the Marianas, Guam, Saipan and Tinian; and the translation of documents detailing the defenses, troop and artillery positions on Okinawa.

442nd  Regimental Combat Team

Lawson Sakai was stunned, when on December 8th 1941, “Three of my classmates and I went to Long Beach Naval Station to enlist. Ed Hardege, Jimmy Keyes, Roy Kentner—accepted. Lawson Sakai, rejected.”
”Why? I’m an American!”
“Sorry, you’re a 4C. Enemy alien,” was the Army’s reply, excluding him from serving in any branch of the military. 
June 12, 1942 marked a change in policy for Nisei (second generation Japanese-American) and the U.S. military, as the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) was officially activated. Then in February 1943, President Roosevelt approved formation of the volunteer 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
By the next month more than 10,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii volunteered and were sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi to begin training. Before Sakai was able to join them, another two months passed while his draft board processed paperwork.
The 100th Battalion of the 442nd entered combat in Italy in September 1944, distinguishing itself in battles at the Volturno River, Cassino and Anzio.  Heavy casualties led to the 100th being known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.”  Collectively, the 442nd was known as the “Go for Broke” Regiment. According to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), it derived from the young soldiers’ pidgin-English, and meant to give everything they had, as though their lives depended upon it.
The Nisei were attached to the 36th Texas Infantry in August 1944, and were sent to France to help propel the drive northeast to Germany’s border. It was cold, rainy and foggy as the 36th Infantry pushed within 40 miles of the German border, to a little town named Bruyeres.
In a valley in the Vosges Mountains, Bruyeres was commanded by four large hills, which the U.S. Army named simply A, B, C and D. The key to taking Bruyeres was taking those four hills. The hills and town were controlled by determined German troops backed by artillery.
Each of the pine tree and brush-covered hills rose more than 1000 feet. Adding to the daunting conditions was the weather—frigid rain and bone-chilling fog.
In mid-October, Major General John Dahlquist, ordered the 442nd into combat. He sent the 100th Battalion to attacked Hill A and the 2nd Battalion to Hill B. Twenty-four hours later the Nisei had only been able to displace the Germans by 500 yards.
For three days the battle was a stalemate, attack and counterattack. The Wehrmacht unloaded its artillery and rockets, nicknamed “screaming meemies” for the sound they made launching and traveling to their detonation. The majority of shells exploded in trees, spraying splinters of steel and wood out through the American soldiers below.
Sakai recalls 88mm anti-aircraft guns being fired at individual soldiers:
“It’s the strongest sound you’ve ever heard when it’s coming toward you. So strong it just freezes your body.  And when it explodes… you don’t want to be near it.”
With help from American artillery, Hill A and Hill B were taken, and the Germans were pushed out of Bruyeres. Hills C and D also finally fell to the 442nd.
Enemy artillery again pinned down the 100th Battalion when it was ordered to continue east, and take the high ground at the town of Biffontaine. Doing so, the Nisei found themselves virtually out of water, ammunition and supplies, only to then be ordered to take the town of Biffontaine, a farm hamlet with no tactical significance. The 100th rousted the Germans and defended against counterattacks until relieved.

Losses for the Nisei in capturing Biffontaine had been 21 killed, 122 wounded and 18 captured.  The 100th’s survivors of Bruyeres and Biffontaine had earned some rest, and that came in the form of clean, dry uniforms and hot food. Their rest lasted less than two days.
Major General John Dahlquist had ordered the 141st Texas Regiment to continue to advance towards the German border, four miles beyond any Allied troops, to cut a rail line the enemy had been using for supplies, an area fiercely defended by SS troops. The Texans suspected they might be encircled, but followed orders anyway.
Sakai remembers, “They were completely surrounded by Germans and were slowly being annihilated. A compliment of 1000 men was down to only 211. Of 18 line officers only three lieutenants were remaining.”
The SS units not only surrounded the 141st, but brought in 6,000 more troops to hold the area “at all costs.” Facing such determined resistance, the other units of the 141st failed to rescue their fellow Texans. The 442nd was ordered to try and rescue the 211 remaining men of the 141st.
Sakai recalls the frontal assaults his men undertook to break through the German lines to the ridge the 141st held, describing the attacks as “banzai charges.”
“It was hand-to-hand in close quarters. It was so foggy. Normally we can use hand signals, but I couldn’t reach men in my squad. I had to keep them close by using verbal commands. We could hear Germans doing the same thing. They could hear us. But we couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see us. The last command was to look for the shape of the helmet—if it comes down, you can fire, if it’s straight across, it’s an American.”
Sakai says the only way to attack the enemy was straight ahead, and for five straight days that’s what the Nisei did. Unfortunately, he says he personally wasn’t able to see the attacks through to the objective: the 141st’s rescue.
“On the third day, October 28th, I took a tree burst. It’s hard to describe, but you people who have been shot down, you know what it’s like when that shrapnel comes through… hot, jagged.  Men were getting shot, killed, left and right.”

The 442nd had been decimated at Bruyeres and Biffontaine. Sakai says units were reduced to only handfuls of men. The 442nd was removed from the front lines for four months of rest and recuperation on the French-Italian border.
“General Dahlquist has gotten a lot of flak about using the 442nd as his fourth regiment,” says Sakai. ”He was accused of using the 442nd to go after the so-called ‘Lost Battalion’.
“If you’re commanding troops, you’re going to use whatever you have. You’re not going to use the second string, you’re going to use the first string if you can.”

By April, 1945, a call again came for the 442nd.  Gen. Mark Clark wanted the Nisei back in Italy where the 5th Army had been stalled nearly six months at the Gothic Line.
Sakai recalls, ”These mountains are 4,000-5,000 feet high. Six distinct mountains guard the pass into the Po Valley and lead directly into Switzerland and Germany. The Germans had control of the mountaintops and crossfire on every mountain. It’s much easier to shoot down than to shoot up.”
The 442nd’s mission was to breach the Gothic Line within two weeks. Trucked to the base of the mountains, they hiked the final five miles at night to a little village called Azano. After watching the enemy’s daytime activity in repulsing the 92nd Infantry, the Nisei planned a night assault with assistance from Italian partisans.
Sakai, in the 2nd Battalion, has heard members of the 3rd Battalion describe leading the attack:
“They said they were like a bunch of monkeys, hanging on to each other hand and tail. They had to go down across a creek, up this mountain. The first half was pretty well hidden in a canyon, but then you were fully exposed for about 1,000 feet.
“One guy was the third from the top (front), who said, ’I can’t believe it. Fifty to sixty pounds of equipment.  You taped your dog tags to your skin so they wouldn’t rattle. Everything light-colored was discarded.’ Very quietly, they crawled up that mountain.
“At daybreak, they could see the machine guns mounted right above them. And when the charge was made, all the Germans were asleep. And they started firing… every man came up. Historians say that in 32 minutes, the 442nd cleared the mountain.”
The remaining Germans were pushed back to Genoa and the Po Valley, as many as 5000 of them surrendering at an airport in Brescia. By May 2, 1945 the war was over in Italy.

Why did young men whose families were behind barbed wire in internment camps volunteer to fight with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team? Sakai says answers vary from man to man, but an overwhelming majority of these Japanese-Americans say they wanted to prove their loyalty to the United States.
“When our medics and the German medics waved the white flag and went out, rescued their wounded, brought them back and an hour later waved the flags and started shooting again. We were comrades in arms, whether we were fighting Germans, Japanese, whoever they were. “
Sakai says he never had regrets during the war about killing, because “when your family is in a prison camp, you have a different kind of life. We had to prove that we were Americans.”

“When World War Two ended I wanted to get the hell out of here,” Sakai says. “In December of 1945, I returned to the United States, and was discharged at Fort McArthur. All they said was, ‘Take off your uniform, you’re a civilian’.
“PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is still a hot topic. In fact, current warriors, when they come off, the line are interrogated and processed by psychologists. I’ve had a recent interview for the same thing—even 60 years later it still lingers.
Sakai says many of his friends took to liquor to wash away the trauma of having been warriors. Even though, he recalls, “we drank the distilleries dry,” the pain didn’t go away. There were still regrets.

In 1961, Walter Tanaka retired from the United States Army at the rank of Major. He had proven his loyalty in 20 years of distinguished service to his country.
Lawson Sakai has four  Purple Hearts among his awards for his role in World War Two.

The following information courtesty Go For Broke Education Center:

The Price Paid by the 442nd

By WWII’s end, some 20,000 Japanese-Americans had served with the 442nd  Regimental Combat Team, suffering a casualty rate around 314%. In just three weeks of fighting in October 1944, the 442nd had 1000 casualties, and 200 men killed.
Years later, Texas Governor John Connally made the men of the 442nd “honorary Texans.” A deeper measure of respect comes from the survivors of the 36th Infantry Division. Sakai says, “If there’s any problem we encounter such as racism or political problems, they’re the first to come up and say, ’Remember, we’re here only because of them.”
The 442nd is the most decorated  combat unit of its size in United States Army history, receiving more than 18,000 individual decorations, with many awarded posthumously for bravery and courage in battle. If one number speaks loudest for the sacrifices of the men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team it is the 9,486 Purple Hearts awarded its soldiers.

Intelligence – The MIS Contribution

"Japanese American linguists were in such demand with Allied commanders, that they were assigned to every military unit from the Army, Navy and Marines. Their role ranged from document translation, personal interpretation and POW interrogation. In addition other duties included monitoring Japanese radio broadcasts, intercepting enemy messages and preparing surrender leaflets. Moreover it was necessary that each linguist be able to understand, comprehend and evaluate Japanese military tactics and doctrine. Their contribution became an important function in fighting and defeating the little-known Japanese military machine."
-from narrative of Major Kan Tagami, MIS Hall of Famer

Decorations received by the 100th Inf. Battalion & 442nd Reg. Combat Team
21 Medals of Honor (20 awarded on June 1, 2000)
33 Distinguished Service Crosses
559 Silver Stars with 28 Oak Leaf Clusters (in lieu of second Silver Star)
8 Presidential Unit Citations
1 Distinguished Service Medal
22 Legion of Merit Medals
15 Soldier's Medals
4,000 Bronze Stars with 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters (in lieu of 2nd Bronze Star)
9,486 Purple Hearts
12 French Croix de Guerre with 2 Palms (in lieu of a second award)
2 Italian Crosses for Military Valor
2 Italian Medals for Military Valor

Decorations received by the Military Intelligence Service (MIS)
3 Distinguished Service Crosses
5 Silver Stars
1 Presidential Unit Citation (awarded June 30, 2000)
5 Legion of Merit Medals