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Two Individuals in History: John Weckerling and Kai Rasmussen

Friday, December 12th, 2008

As the U.S. drew close to joining World War II in 1941, a few military officers—notably Lt. Col. John Weckerling and Capt. Kai Rasmussen—realized that there would be a need for Japanese translators in the Pacific. Unfortunately, the military could only find a few soldiers already proficient in Japanese, so Weckerling and Rasmussen began to push for the creation of a language school to intensively train people to be military linguists.

Weckerling and Rasmussen put their jobs on the line and got the 4th Army Intelligence School opened in San Francisco on November 1, 1941, where John Aiso, Shigeya Kihara, Akira Oshida, and Tetsuo Imagawa taught fifty-eight Nisei and two Caucasians. A few months later President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that forced the internment or relocation of Japanese families. Because the school was housing Nisei, it had to move or lose nearly all of its students. After a number of other mid-western states declined, Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota agreed to take in the school, so it moved to Camp Savage and changed its name to the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS).

Within a couple of years, the school outgrew itself and moved again, this time to Fort Snelling in St. Paul. Eventually MISLS graduated more than 6,000 linguists. Its graduates broke codes, served on the front lines, and even became instructors themselves. Their service in the Pacific theater of World War II was so successful that it prompted Major General Charles Willoughby—General Douglas MacArthur’s Chief of Staff for Military Intelligence—to say, “The Nisei shortened the Pacific War by two years and saved possibly a million American lives and saved probably billions of dollars.”

The Minnesota Historical Society Library has a number of primary and secondary resources about this topic. Check it out in the Minnesota History Topics: Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling.

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