The MIS Story

A Brief History of the Military Intelligence Service

In the foreground of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio of San Francisco’s Building 640 stands as a symbol of patriotism and civil liberties. Here, in the structure once used as an Air Mail carrier depot and a gymnasium at the Presidio of San Francisco, were secretly trained and housed the first class of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Language School, the forerunner of the renown Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey.

Here, on the eve of war with Japan in November 1941, the US army secretly recruited enlisted Japanese American (Nisei) soldiers and trained them as military linguists for the coming war. Attached to every combat unit in the Pacific War, these MIS soldier linguists, translated documents, intercepted intelligence, impersonated the enemy in battle, gathered key intelligence from prisoners of war, and ultimately helped American and Allied forces win the war in the Pacific. Their intimate knowledge of the language and culture helped gain a tactical and strategic advantage over their opponents. Many effected the peaceful transition in the Occupation of Japan. As “grassroots” ambassadors, they helped lay the groundwork for Japan’s democracy.




Like many pivotal experiences in history, the MIS story is replete with ironies. Just one month prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first group of recruits of 58 Nisei and two Caucausians began their secret language studies with their four Nisei instructors in the makeshift classrooms and barracks of Building 640. After Pearl Harbor, everything changed.
Learn more: Wartimes and the MIS