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PlaceMaker: Rosalyn Tonai Talks Presidio History During World War II

Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017 Category History

Rosalyn Tonai’s mission is to ensure that one of the Presidio’s most complex and important stories is shared with the public.

As the long-time executive director of the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS), she was a key figure championing the creation of the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center, located at the Presidio’s Crissy Field. Within its walls, visitors learn about the US Army language school created just before the attack on Pearl Harbor where mostly Japanese American soldiers were trained as linguists supporting the American World War II effort. These linguist soldiers have been credited with significantly shortening the war in the Pacific and saving many lives.

Ironically, at the same time these soldiers were serving their country, many of their family members were incarcerated in camps as a result of Executive Order  9066, signed by President Roosevelt and implemented by Civilian Exclusion Orders issued from the Presidio military post in 1942.​

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of these events, two special exhibitions at the Presidio help visitors understand what transpired and think about how lessons learned may apply to the issues of our times.

Special Exhibits and Events

The Children of the Camps Exhibition, open at the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center through June 30, 2017, presents photos by Dorthea Lange, Clem Albers, and others during the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, two-thirds of whom were American citizens.

The Presidio Officers' Club is hosting a special exhibition EXCLUSION: The Presidio's Role in World War II Japanese American Incarceration through March 2018.

A related program, Letters from the Camps, held on Thursday, April 27 at 6 pm, uses original letters from the internment camps, now preserved at California Historical Society, to highlight Japanese Americans who spoke out during and after internment. It was developed in partnership with the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, the California Historical Society, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California.​

Interview with Rosalyn Tonai

We recently spoke with Rosalyn about the MIS Historic Learning Center, the World War II incarceration, and the role the Presidio can plan in helping today’s visitors draw present-day meaning from historical events. She is featured in both videos below.