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Presidio Exhibit Charts Japanese American Wartime Experience


Presidio of San Francisco (November 5, 2009) — A new exhibit opening at the Presidio tells the story of America’s Nisei heroes, Japanese-American soldiers recruited for secret training at the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) language school at the Presidio. Presented by the Presidio Trust and the National Japanese American Historical Society, Prejudice and Patriotism opens at the Presidio Officers’ Club on Veterans’ Day, Wednesday, November 11 and runs through January 31, 2010. Admission is free.

The National Japanese American Historical Association will honor World War II Nisei veterans at a reception marking the formal opening of the exhibit on Saturday, November 14 at 2 pm in the Moraga Room at the Officers’ Club. The reception will feature live music by George Yoshida, who served in the MIS at Ft. Snelling, and the celebrated J-Town Jazz Ensemble as well as walking tours led by National Park Service rangers and a panel discussion with MIS veterans.

“These men played a vital role in America’s war strategy,” said Stephen Haller, National Park Service historian and author of The Last Word in Airfields: A History of Crissy Field. “The war was shortened, lives were saved and friendly relations with Japan were created due, in part, to their contributions.”

The Army established the 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 captured documents and intercepted radio intelligence, interrogated prisoners of war, saved the lives of civilians trapped on the battlefield, and ultimately helped American and Allied forces win the war in the Pacific.

The attack on Pearl Harbor 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.

Eventually, the MIS Language School grew into the renowned Defense Language Institute of Monterey, California. Today, plans are in place to rehabilitate Building 640, which housed the original MIS language school and create the MIS Historic Learning Center which will serve as a permanent home for the preservation and interpretation of the MIS story.

“This exhibit brings to life some very important historical events that happened at the Presidio,” says Haller “and juxtaposes the infamous — the issuing of the order leading to the incarceration of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans — with things that were kept secret for decades — the existence of the MIS school — and that only came to light relatively recently.”

“It’s a poignant, ironic and compelling story,” Haller continues. “Even as their families were being rounded up and sent to internment camps, these young soldiers were working to help win the war in the Pacific. It’s very appropriate to be telling it here because the Presidio preserves the site of the secret language school as well as the site from which the Japanese-American internment effort was directed.”

Prejudice and Patriotism features a unique collection of portraits of and interviews with Nisei veterans from photographer Tom Graves’ exhibit, After the Wars: Lessons From America’s Nisei Heroes.

“This exhibit,” says Graves, “honors the patriotic Nisei soldiers who fought in the Pacific and it honors their brothers who later who fought through Europe (and later Korea) with machine guns, grenades, and bayonets.”

Prejudice and Patriotism runs November 11, 2009 through January 31, 2010 at the Presidio Officers’ Club, 50 Moraga Ave., San Francisco. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. For more information and a complete list of public programs complimenting the exhibit including weekly films, workshops, walks with National Park Service rangers, and free workshops for teachers, visit

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

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