Fort Snelling had a secret Japanese language school during WWII

Fort Snelling had a secret Japanese language school during WWII

During World War II, while many Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps, a secret group of Japanese-Americans in Minnesota were learning how to defeat the enemy. The military set up classrooms at Fort Snelling allowing about 6,000 to learn to become interpreters so they could interrogate Japanese soldiers, translate captured documents and eventually helping the United States win the war.

During the war, 23-year-old Fred Korematsu, an American citizen, was arrested and thrown into an internment camp in Utah. Korematsu joined thousands of other Japanese-Americans unfairly incarcerated. His daughter, Karen says after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, anyone of Japanese descent was suspected of being a spy, or simply disloyal.

But in Minnesota, a secret program was underway. Thousands learned to read and write the complex Japanese language at Fort Snelling and were sent out as translators and interrogators.

"Many of these Japanese-American volunteers said this is the way to prove to everybody we're Americans," historian Matthew Cassady said.

Cassady said one of the reasons the program moved to Minnesota from the west coast is because Minnesota was considered more tolerant.

About 40 years after the war, Korematsu's conviction was overturned. It led to an apology from the U.S. Government and financial compensation for thousands of those interned, and now, his daughter is trying to carry on his legacy.

"His greatest fear was that something like this might happen again if we don't educate our generation now and the next generation," she said.

Fort Snelling's Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during WWII exhibit opens on May 23. Click here for more information.

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