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Presidio Campfire Remembers Japanese-American Wartime Experience


Presidio of San Francisco (May 12, 2009) –The U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service language school in the Presidio was one of the best kept secrets of World War II. On Saturday, May 16 the public is being offered a chance to hear the “untold” story of the school at a unique “community campfire” being held at the school’s former home.

Visitors will literally gather around a campfire, enjoy live Japanese folk music and listen to the inspiring stories of the Japanese-American (Nisei) soldiers who trained at the school and Japanese-Americans interned in prison camps during the war.

The campfire, Unmatched Courage: Japanese-American Experience in the Presidio during WWII, will be held Saturday May 16 from 5-7pm at 640 Mason St. in the Presidio. The building housed the former language school, and plans are underway to restore the building as a Military Intelligence School Historic Learning Center. Admission to the campfire is free and attendees are welcome to bring a picnic.

The Army established the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Language School in 1941, secretly training Japanese-American soldiers for strategic and tactical operations as military linguists. Attached to every combat unit in the Pacific War, these MIS soldier linguists translated documents, intercepted intelligence, impersonated the enemy in battle, gathered key intelligence from prisoners of war, and ultimately helped American and Allied forces win the war in the Pacific.

The attack on Pearl Harbor however, changed everything. From the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command, just a few hundred yards from the MIS classroom in Building 640, General John L. Dewitt issued the orders leading to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Thus, even as their training intensified, MIS soldiers learned that their families were being imprisoned in detention centers. Although only one class would graduate from the Building 640 facility, the valuable mission it began at the Presidio would continue at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling in Minnesota, where, in the wake of the mass evacuation of Nisei from the West Coast, the MIS Language School was forced to relocate.

The campfire is being sponsored by the National Japanese-American Historical Association, the Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, the Crissy Field Center and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

For more information, or call 415-561-7765.

The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to oversee the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban national park located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 1,500-acre site contains expansive open space and spectacular views, a 300-acre historic forest, and rare and endangered plants and wildlife. It also comprises nearly 6 million square feet of buildings, including 469 historic structures that contribute to its status as a National Historic Landmark District.”

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Lisa Petrie

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