Presidio hangar to be converted to learning center

May 28, 2011 2:35:31 PM PDT
One month before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Presidio's Building 640, a converted hangar along Crissy Field, served as a classroom for 58 second-generation Japanese Americans who served in the armed forces.

As part of the Military Intelligence Service, or MIS, those Nisei, along with two Caucasian soldiers, studied to become the schools first class of linguists who would play a vital role in military intelligence and combat duty.

Although the current state of the ersatz airmail hangar belies its historical importance, the walls of that historic warehouse in the Presidio are about to talk.

Fifty years after the establishment of the language school, the building was discovered still standing in 1991, and preservation efforts ensued.

After years of planning and negotiations between the Presidio Trust and the National Japanese American Historical Society, Friday the two entities signed a cooperative agreement to rehabilitate the once-secret Army language school.

The agreement allows for the conversion of the 10,000-square-foot building into an MIS Historic Learning Center that will be operated by the historical society.

"The MIS story is part of the Presidio's legacy of service," Presidio Trust executive director Craig Middleton said in a statement Friday. "I can't think of a better way to honor the service of the MIS veterans."

Serving in almost every major campaign during the Pacific War, the MIS linguists provided indispensable assistance to the Allies by conducting interrogations and translating maps, personal correspondence and radio transmissions.

Months after the language school was established at the Presidio, then-President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order forcing Japanese Americans from the West Coast and into internment camps, prompting the school to relocate to Minnesota in June 1942.

Four years later, the school returned to California as the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey.

At its peak, the school's 160 instructors taught 3,000 students in its 125 classrooms.

The learning center will feature exhibits and ongoing public programs devoted to the MIS and their experience. Its Wall of Honor will display the more than 6,000 names of the MIS graduates as a permanent memory of their contributions.

"This is indeed a momentous step forward ... to give the MIS story its proper place of importance in U.S. history," said Ken Kawaichi, the historical society's board president.


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