August 11, 2022

By Cheryl Hirata-Dulas
Twin Cities JACL

Master plan vision for Historic Fort Snelling.  Schematic provided by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Master plan vision for Historic Fort Snelling.  Schematic provided by the Minnesota Historical Society.

MINNEAPOLIS (March 10, 2016) — The Minnesota Historical Society’s effort to convert the remnant of Historic Fort Snelling into a park museum will include the story of the thousands of Nisei Japanese Americans who trained there at the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) during World War II.

Since 2014, the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League Education Committee has been involved in giving input into a major initiative to revitalize the Fort Snelling area, significant to the Japanese American community because the MISLS was located there during World War II.
The U.S. Army opened the MISLS at the Presidio in San Francisco in late 1941, but the internment of Japanese Americans away from the west coast required the school to be moved to Camp Savage, Minn. in May 1942, and then to Fort Snelling in August 1944.

Edwin Nakasone Ph.D., an MISLS graduate in 1946, stands in front of the cavalry barracks of Fort Snelling in 2007.
Edwin Nakasone Ph.D., an MISLS graduate in 1946, stands in front of the cavalry barracks of Fort Snelling in 2007.

The MISLS barracks were more or less “chicken coops” in a section of Fort Snelling that is now a runway of the adjacent Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to Edwin Nakasone, a history professor Emeritus at Century College in White Bear Lake, who gave Asian American Press a tour of the fort in 2007, and has written several books on the Nisei soldiers and the MISLS. Nakasone himself went through Fort Snelling at the end of the war and served in the occupation of Japan.

The MISLS at Fort Snelling remained open through the end of the war to train Nisei soldiers to become translators and interpreters in the occupation of Japan. The MISLS was relocated to the Presidio of Monterey, Calif. in June 1946.

To commemorate Fort Snelling’s bicentennial in 2020, the Minnesota Historical Society is meeting with various communities to ensure that the many stories, often largely untold in the official history, are preserved and experienced.

Edwin Nakasone Ph.D., center, and other MISLS graduates of Camp Savage and Fort Snelling at the Minnesota History Center in 2002.
Edwin Nakasone Ph.D., center, and other MISLS graduates of Camp Savage and Fort Snelling at the Minnesota History Center in 2002.

The Minnesota Historical Society is working with the legislature and private donors to fund renovation of an original calvary barracks to create a new visitor center, develop new exhibits in the visitor center to tell the many stories of those who were impacted by the fort, and make improvements to the site.

“It is vitally important that the Governor and our legislators hear from communities and individuals about the importance of this revitalization project so that all the fort’s stories and history are told,” stated Tom Pfannenstiel, Historic Fort Snelling site manager.

E-mails are requested to be submitted before May 23, 2016 and directed to:

–  Governor Mark Dayton to thank him for including Historic Fort Snelling his 2016 Capital Budget recommendations (http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form), and

–  State legislators asking for their support (www.mnhs.org/hfs2020).

Other ways to take action and help preserve this National Historic Landmark for future generations:

– Attend “History Matters Day” at the Minnesota State Capitol on March 22, 2016 (www.mnhs.org/hfs2020)

– Attend a community listening session or share ideas and stories (www.mnhs.org/hfs2020/share)

– Make a donation to the project (sites.mnhs.org/support/make-gift)

– Share personal Fort Snelling experiences on social media using #HFS2020

– Sign up for e-mail updates (www.mnhs.org/hfs2020/updates)

For questions, contact Tom Pfannenstiel at tom.[email protected], or visit www.mnhs.org/hfs2020

Cheryl Hirata-Dulas is a member and former president of the Twin Cities chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

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