Visit the MIS Historic Learning Center website >>
Nearly every Presidio building holds a story from the past, but one in particular captures a tale that is rich in irony and that challenges our notions of patriotism and liberty. What looks like a simple warehouse in the middle of Crissy Field is actually the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Historic Learning Center. Here visitors will discover a remarkable chapter from World War II that is more relevant than ever today.
To understand the roots of the center, look back to November 1941, when tensions were growing between the United States and Japan. At that time, the U.S. Army recruited 58 Japanese American soldiers and secretly trained them as military linguists in a dilapidated former aircraft hangar. Students were required to remain within the building at all times; one half served as a classroom and the rest as living quarters with an open-plan room filled with bunkbeds.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, General John L. Dewitt – from a Presidio building just a few hundred yards away from the school – issued the orders leading to the mass internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans on the west coast, including some family members of the MIS students. Just one class would graduate from the Presidio facility before it relocated. Ultimately, more than 6,000 students were eventually trained and MIS soldier linguists were attached to every American combat unit in the Pacific, where their intimate knowledge of language and culture contributed to the American war effort. The school became the forerunner to the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey.
Visit the MIS Historic Learning Center
It's easy to spend a good chunk of an afternoon at the MIS Historic Learning Center, particularly while surrounded by the highly knowledgeable staff. Start your experience with a 10-minute introductory video shown in a reconstructed classroom, then make your way around the building to see history unfold in front of you. The many interactive exhibits are sure to keep kids and adults captivated, especially the displays unveiling the personal histories of the soldiers and the campaigns in which they fought.
The MIS Historic Learning Center deserves to be moved to the top of your San Francisco "must see" list. It's open on weekends from 12 to 5 pm. General Admission is $10. Veterans and children under 12 are free. Very limited parking is nearby; consider arriving via Muni 30, which stops nearby at Sports Basement along Crissy Field.
The MIS Historic Learning Center also functions as a community space that's available for non-profits and families to rent.
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