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Shigeki J. Sugiyama

"MIS Personnel in Post-World War II Japan and Korea"

I learned from the MISNorCal Intelligencer that the NJAVC is conducting an essay con-test on the role of MIS personnel in the occupation of Japan. From the contest guidelines given in the Intelligencer, it appears that it is intended that the essays focus on the role of Japanese American MISers in developing and nurturing cross cultural relations between the governments and peoples of the United States and Japan—rather than on the MISers contributions to the military security interests of the United States. I am therefore not sure whether this paper will fit the guidelines since it concerns the significant contributions made by Japanese American MISers to the success of U.S. and United Nations forces in countering the North Korean invasion of the Republic of Korea in 1950. Moreover, I am not an MIS Language School graduate. Nonetheless, I am submitting this, not to seek a prize, but as a means of bringing to the fore the role of Japanese American MISers in the successful prosecution of the Korean War. Just as the Korean War is considered the "Forgotten War," the important and significant role played by Japanese American MISers in the Korean War has not, to my knowledge, ever been highlighted.

By way of personal background, I graduated from the Army Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, GA, in April 1947, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Infantry, and then completed the Basic Infantry Officers Course at the Infantry School before arriving in Japan. on January 3, 1948, just two weeks past my 20th birthday. — I had requested assignment to the MIS Language School at Monterey, but because of my eligibility for an overseas assignment, the Pentagon canceled my orders to Alaska (which I had received while my language school request was pending) and sent me to Japan instead with a 9330 Translator MOS, without any language training.

On arrival at the 4th Replacement Depot at Camp Zama, I was sent to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS) in Tokyo for testing and assignment as a linguist. There, it was quickly determined that I was not a qualified linguist, but I was told that I was a "potential" linguist and would be assigned to the repatriation center at Maizuru as a POW interrogation officer. When I asked that I be given Japanese language training at ATIS (where they did have a Japanese language training program) before sending me to Maizuru, I was told that they could not and that I would have to learn on-the-job, which I did. Since I had attended the Alameda Gakuen in Alameda, CA, before the war, I could converse a little in Japanese.

At Maizuru, Japanese military and civilian personnel who were captured in Manchuria by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II and had been transported to Siberian labor camps were being processed at the Maizuru Repatriation Center upon their repatriation to Japan. Three military intelligence units, the 354th, 355th and 356th Headquarters Intelligence Detachments (HIDs), and a Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) unit were stationed at Maizuru to screen and interrogate the repatriates to obtain as much information as possible about Soviet forces and activities in the Soviet Far East. There were about 30 officers and over 100 enlisted men permanently assigned to the MI units at Maizuru. This complement was augmented by additional personnel from ATIS when repatriation operations began in May and ended in November, the period that the Siberian port at Nakhodka was open. Follow-up interrogations of selected repatriates were conducted in Tokyo by ATIS personnel as well as in other parts of Japan by other units. Thus, the Maizuru and ATIS repatriate interrogation program gave the U.S. a little peek into a remote area of the Soviet Union just as the Cold War began heating up.

Then, in 1949, the Soviet Union declared that all the Japanese remaining in its custody would be returned and the repatriation of Japanese from the Soviet Union would be concluded by the end of 1949. When the repatriation program was terminated by the Soviet Union at the end of 1949, I believe there were over 100,000 Japanese military and civilian personnel still unaccounted for. Nonetheless, all the MIS personnel at Maizuru except for a small caretaker cadre were reassigned to military units throughout Japan. I was slated to go to the 163rd MI Detachment at HQ, I Corps, in Kyoto. However, HQ, I Corps, was deactivated, and the MI personnel remaining in Maizuru were reassigned to the 163rd MI Detachment, which unit designation was moved from Kyoto to Maizuru.

I have no idea as to what the ultimate value was of the information about the Soviet Union that was developed through the Maizuru and ATIS interrogation operations. However, on July 1, 1950, when the forward elements of the U.S. 24°' Infantry Division arrived in Korea to block the advancing North Korean Army, the Eighth U S. Army and GHQ, Far East Command, had hundreds of Japanese linguists experienced in POW interrogation stationed in Japan and available for deployment to Korea. Each of the Eighth Army's divisions, the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions, the 10 Cavalry Division, and lastly the 7thh Infantry Division, had assigned, down to the regimental level, Japanese American interrogators who were experienced and could conduct interrogations effectively in Japanese. Since most Korean adults could speak Japanese, language was not a problem. And if a non-Japanese speaking POW was captured, there were many bilingual South Koreans who could be called upon for assistance.

In the meanwhile, I had, at the request of the Division G2, Lieutenant Colonel John Pad-dock[1], been reassigned from Maizuru to the HQ, 7th Infantry Division, at Sendai to be the G2 Section's Order of Battle (OB) Officer as of 16 May 1950. And since the 7th Division was not deployed to Korea until the X U.S. Corps' amphibious landing at Inchon on September 15, 1950, Colonel Paddock had been an instructor at The Infantry School during the time I was a student there and although he did not know me personally, knew that I was an Infantry School graduate.

I had the opportunity to watch the development of the North Korean Army (NKA) order of battle from safe haven in Japan while the division prepared to join in the fray in Korea.

When I joined the division in May, we had over 50 officers and men assigned to the division's interrogation operation. (The division had inherited the personnel of the HQ, IX Corps, MI Detachment when that headquarters was deactivated earlier.) But as the Eighth Army's other di-visions were committed in Korea, the 7th Division was stripped of much of its personnel to fill in shortages in the other divisions. And of the Division's interrogators, all but 16 were transferred to other units, including the 163rd MI Detachment, which was placed in support of the 1st Marine Division when it landed at Inchon ahead of the 7th Infantry Division.

When the North Korean Army attacked across the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950, the only NKA order of battle intelligence we had at division headquarters was a thin "top secret" GHQ order of battle estimate, which I soon found to be inadequate. As it happened, on the Friday be-fore the Sunday morning NKA attack, I had concluded that movements of NKA units southward toward the 38th parallel reported in the GHQ Daily Intelligence Summaries (DIS) for the preceding week bore closer scrutiny. So I had instructed my NCO assistants to dig up whatever we had on the North Korean Army and to post the troop movements reported in the GHQ DIS on a map in the war room. But I was informed that we didn't have any maps of North Korea and would have to get them from the Engineer map depot on Monday. So I told my men that they could wait until Monday. But of course, by then, the North Koreans had launched their attack and we really needed the maps and all the NKA OB information we could pull together.

Notwithstanding the dearth of current intelligence on the NKA at the outset, it was not long before the Eighth Army was able to develop a rather complete picture of the NKA order of battle, thanks to the POW interrogation and captured document screening and translation work performed by Japanese American MISers who accompanied the Eighth Army's advance elements into combat. Although there may have been some Korean or Chinese linguists assigned to military intelligence units in the Far East Command, I knew of none. Thus, my recollection is that all of the intelligence information developed from or through human sources thereafter was by Japanese linguists, primarily Japanese Americans, aided as necessary by bilingual South Korean personnel.

I don't know and cannot now recall the names of the many Japanese American military intelligence officers and men who produced the intelligence needed to successfully engage the enemy. The few that I do recall are men such as:

  • Major Sadao "Sud" Takahashi (then a First Lieutenant), who was in the battle of Taejon in July 1950 with the 19th Infantry and was barely able to escape capture by the NKA. This was the battle in which 24th Division Commander, Major General William Dean, was captured by the NKA.
  • Corporal George Kurosumi, who was wounded in the chest near Suwon in September 1950 when the 7th Division's G2 (who Kurosumi was driving) and G3 ran into NKA tanks retreating from the Pusan Perimeter, rather than the advancing 1st Cavalry Division troops they had expected to link-up with. The G3 was killed in this action, but Kurosumi recovered and rejoined the G2 Section inside the Hungnam Perimeter in North Korea in December 1950.

The 7th Division's regimental IPW teams were always up where the action was. When the 32nd Infantry crossed the Han River on 25 September 1950 and captured Namsan, the mountain overlooking Seoul, to help the 1st Marine Division liberate Seoul, the 32nd Infantry IPW team was right there with them. One of the interrogators, I believe it was Sergeant Sakamoto, fortuitously escaped death when another soldier occupied the foxhole Sakamoto had dug for himself and was killed when a NKA mortar round made a direct hit on the foxhole during the night.

When elements of the 32nd and 31st Infantry relieved the 7th Marine Regiment on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea in December 1950, the 32nd Infantry IPW team was right there with them. And when they were forced to retreat by overwhelming Chinese Communist forces, they came out on foot lugging their interrogation tools, their dictionaries, and providing flank security for the retreating Marines along with the other surviving 7th Infantry Division troops

In October or November 1950, before the Marines got bogged down at the Chosin Reservoir, an 18-man Marine patrol patrolling west of Wonsan was surprised and captured by Chinese Communist troops. Among the 18 men was Corporal Saburo Shimomura of the 163rd MI Detachment. He was successful in concealing his role as a POW interrogator from the Chinese and was released, along with the others, in Central Korea some five or six month later. Sab had been a high school classmate of mine in the Topaz, Utah, relocation center and I was most surprised as well as very glad to be able greet him when he got of the light aircraft that brought him back to our lines

In January 1951, North Korean guerrillas attacked a 7th Division POW compound at Tanyang and Staff Sergeant Andrew Watada of Ft. Lupton, CO, was killed in the attack.

I don't know how many other Japanese American military intelligence personnel were killed or wounded in Korea, and I am not familiar with the operations of IPW teams other than that of the 7th Infantry Division, but those who served with the front line units during 1950 and 1951 endured the most trying hardships. And I am convinced that the most useful intelligence information about the NKA and the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) was developed by the Japanese American military intelligence personnel of the divisional and Eighth Army IPW teams. I say this with certainty since I was reassigned from the 7th Infantry Division to the Order of Battle Branch, Intelligence Division, G2 Section, GHQ, UNC/FEC, in Tokyo in July 1951. There I found that we were totally dependent on the POW interrogation reports and captured document translations produced by the Japanese American military intelligence personnel of the divisions, corps, Eighth Army, and the forward elements of ATIS (which I believe was re-designated the 500th MI Group by then) in Korea. Colonel (then Captain) Henry Ajima held down the CCF desk and I was assigned to the NKA desk and the two of us were responsible for providing what amounted to the final word on the CCF and NKA order of battle in Korea. And to do that, we relied totally on the aforementioned IPW and document translation reports of which there were thousands in several file cabinets in our office.

Of course, we didn't have computers in those days so we had to rely on our own memory to recall what bits of information there were about particular enemy formations in what report in what file drawer. Hank was amazing in that, when we received new information of possible OB value, he could relate it almost instantly to some other report in a particular file drawer. Amazing! In any event, my last major project before finally returning to the United States in July 1952 was the production of a complete order of battle of the North Korean Army, the first of its kind. And to complete the project, I relied entirely on the reports of the interrogators and document translators. There simply was no other useful information.

In conclusion, I am particularly appreciative of the important work the Japanese American military intelligence personnel performed during the Korea War because my own work was totally dependent on the information that they produced. Moreover, the importance of the language skills of military intelligence personnel was reemphasized to me when I took command of the 55th Military Intelligence Detachment in 1965 for deployment to Viet Nam and found that of the four officers and nine enlisted men sent to me for assignment to my IPW section, none were Vietnamese linguists. In fact, there probably were no more than a handful of military personnel in the entire United States Army who were proficient in the Vietnamese language and capable of producing the kind of military intelligence needed to prosecute that war successfully. Even today, it is abundantly clear, in the light of the recently disclosed scandalous mistreatment of enemy prisoners, that the U.S. armed forces were not adequately prepared linguistically for combat operations and occupation duty in Iraq. But thanks to the fortuitous presence of Japanese American MISers in Japan at the outset of the Korean War, the United Nations Command was able to ac-quire and develop the intelligence needed to halt the North Korean takeover of the Republic of Korea.

About the Author:

Lieutenant Colonel Shigeki J. Sugiyama
United States Army (Retired) and
formerly Associate Special Counsel and Inspector General
Office of the Special Counsel
U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (now U.S. Office of Special Counsel)

Born in Alameda, CA, December 19, 1927, he lived there until ordered out of Alameda by the government in February 1942 because of World War II. He was then interned at Manzanar, CA, and Topaz, Utah, War Relocation Centers.

He left the Topaz Center by himself and relocated to Ann Arbor. MI, in July 1944; graduated from University High School in June 1945; then completed one year at the University of Michigan before being drafted into the Army in April 1946.

He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Infantry, in April 1947 upon graduation from Army Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, GA.

He served in Korea with the 7th Infantry Division from the amphibious landing at Inchon in September 1950 until the start of the armistice negotiations in July 1951, then in the General Headquarters, United Nations Command/Far East Command, (GHQ, UNC/FEC) in Tokyo until July 1952. Returned to Korea in March 1956 and served with the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission Support Group as its plans, training, and security officer.

He later served in Germany with the 4th Armored Division from June 1961 to July 1964 as an intelligence officer and Division G2 (Assistant Chief of Staff, G2), then as an instructor and division chief at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg, NC, and finally in Viet Nam as commander of the 55th Military Intelligence Detachment and concurrently, Deputy G2 of I Field Force Viet Nam.

He was awarded three Bronze Star Medals, the Air Medal, and the Army Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant for his service during the Korean and Viet Nam wars, among numerous other service medals.

He retired from active duty on September 1, 1966, upon completion of his Viet Nam duty, then finished his undergraduate studies at U.C. Berkeley with a BA in Political Science in September 1967, and returned to government service as a personnel management specialist and advisor with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, initially in San Francisco, then in the Commission's Central Office in Washington, D.C. as a program manager. He also obtained a Master of Public Administration degree from Cal State Hayward in 1969.

From 1972 to 1976, he served as National President-Elect and President of the Japanese American Citizens League.

In 1977-78, he served as a project coordinator under President Jimmy Carter's President's Reorganization Project and assisted in the development and passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which resulted in the abolishment of the Civil Service Commission on January 1, 1979, and a revamping of the U.S. civil service system, and he was transferred to the newly established Office of the Special Counsel, which Sugiyama had helped to create and establish. In the Office of Special Counsel, he served as an Assistant Special Counsel and then Associate Special Counsel and Inspector General until his second retirement in August 1988.

While serving in Washington, D.C. Sugiyama helped to establish the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Springfield, VA, and served as its founding president. He also served as chairman of the Buddhist Churches of America Eastern District Council and as Vice President of the BCA (1983-87)

He and his wife, Kimi, returned to the Bay Area in September 1988 and they now live in Richmond.. He served as a Police Commissioner for the City of Richmond (1989-1992), and on the 1990-91 Contra Costa County Grand Jury as Foreman Pro-Tem. From 1990 to 1993, he studied at the Institute of Buddhist Studies Graduate School and Seminary and received a Master in Jodo Shinshu Studies degree in 1994. He received his tokudo ordination as a minister of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha [Buddhist Temple] at Kyoto, Japan, in October 2003. He is a member of VFW Post 913 in Richmond, the Contra Costa County Peace Officers Association, the Contra Costa County Elections Citizens Advisory Panel, and of the Sons in Retirement Branch 73.