Exhibit sheds light on secret Minnesota school that trained Japanese linguists during WWII

A new exhibit organized by the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League features photos of a secret school in Minnesota that trained soldiers as Japanese linguists to support the U.S. Military.

The display opened Saturday with two veterans showing up to see themselves featured in the panels. The little-known secret language program during World War II, based at Fort Snelling, is now available for the public to learn all about it.

Edwin “Bud” Nakasone and his wife get a kick out of seeing his 19-year-old self in 1945 posing in the snow outside of Fort Snelling. The Hawaiian native was one of nearly 6,000 Japanese Americans to attend the secret military intelligence service language school, or MISLS, during WWII. The school trained men and women as linguists to assist troops fighting in the Pacific.

“If it hadn’t been for people like us to be able to communicate with the Japanese military and later on Japanese civilians, they would not have had as successful a war effort and successful occupation in Japan," explains Nakasone.

The new display features a dozen panels that share narratives and photographs of MISLS students and their experiences during the war -- including the challenge of serving in the military while many loved ones were held in concentration camps.

“I think that their stories are really important and relevant to continue to tell because they really did build a bridge of cultural understanding," explained Kimmy Tanaka, site supervisor at historic Fort Snelling.

A one-time only opening day presentation also included a virtual reality tour created by experts at the University of Minnesota and allows visitors to re-create 3D models of what it was like to live in the barracks at the secret school. The entire exhibit has been in the works for years, requiring hours of tracking down family photos and creating a registry of thousands of students who helped assist soldiers in translation. Seiki Oshiro was one of them recruited to help U.S. troops.

“I have documented all of this history, so I’m very familiar with what’s on the wall, and I was a member of the occupation of Japan also as a linguist," said Seiki Oshiro, WWII veteran.

The photo exhibit at Fort Snelling is available for the public to view through Labor Day.