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News | Nov. 19, 2019

History highlight: A living language resource

By Akhirah Padilla, NSA/CSS Public Affairs Officer, and the Center for Cryptologic History

President Trump recently declared November as National Veterans and Military Families month. This month, the National Security Agency is featuring a short history series that highlights the contributions of some lesser known cryptologic heroes. Check back here next Wednesday for the final segment in our three-part series.

We hope you enjoy learning more about these veterans who often risked their lives in service to our Nation. Some of the content from these stories was derived from or supplemented with content from our oral histories archives. This week’s edition features the story of a linguist who served in World War II.


During World War II many, Nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Americans volunteered or were drafted into the U.S. military. The majority of Nisei served in combat operations of the Italian Campaign, which has been well documented by historians. The contributions of those who served in the Pacific Theater, especially those who served in positions associated with SIGINT activities, hasn’t been well documented and isn’t as widely known.

One Japanese-American who worked on SIGINT decrypts was Clarence Yamagata, a Nisei from Hawaii. Yamagata served with the Central Bureau Brisbane, the SIGINT organization that supported General Douglas MacArthur.

At Central Bureau, Yamagata served as a living language resource: he was able to explain complex grammar points to junior linguists and colloquial Japanese language applications to those who did translations.

Prior to the war, Yamagata had been employed by the Japanese consulate in Manila. He was secretly working for U.S. military intelligence at the time.

Once war broke out, he became a part of the effort that supplied SIGINT support on the island fortress of Corregidor. He served there until the U.S. surrender on Corregidor, when Yamagata was flown out of the island’s airstrip on a patched-up airplane bound for Australia.

At the end of the war Yamagata, then a Captain, participated in the Japanese phase of TICOM, a project that captured enemy SIGINT and COMSEC records and personnel. 

In August 1944, General MacArthur awarded Captain Yamagata the Legion of Merit.  Yamagata left the Army in 1948 with the rank of major.

In time, the efforts and sacrifices of Nisei would be widely recognized by Congress. On October 5, 2010 the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 6,000 Japanese-Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Services and to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the nation’s highest civilian awards. We think they are most deserving of this honor.


Next week, we will provide additional insights on service in the Central Bureau, this time from the perspective of a cryptologist serving in the Women’s Army Corps in the Southwest Pacific.

To learn more about cryptologic greats, visit the National Cryptologic Museum at the intersection of Maryland Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (I-295), adjacent to the headquarters of the National Security Agency. Admission and parking are free. Click here (for hours, directions and other information. You can also follow the museum on Facebook.