Camp Savage Military Intelligence Service Language School
Savage's involvement in shaping the nation's history continued with World War II. In 1942, the city became home to the Military Intelligence Service Language School. The school's purpose was to improve the foreign language skills of Japanese-American soldiers, and to train them in military intelligence.
The school was necessary because the Nisei (children of Japanese immigrants) had become more Americanized than initially thought. In fact, only 7 percent were fluent or proficient in the Japanese language.
The school was first established in 1941 at the Presidio in San Francisco. But then Pearl Harbor was bombed, and in the interest of national security, Japanese-Americans were evacuated from the West Coast. Consequently, a new location had to be found for the Language School. Savage was selected after a nationwide survey found Minnesota to have the best record of racial amity. Language school commandant Col. Kai E. Rasmussen was quoted as saying he believed Savage was a community that would accept Japanese-Americans for their true worth.
The selected site was on 132 acres located south of what is today Highway 13, near Xenwood Avenue. The site had been used by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, followed by a program that housed elderly, indigent men. Although not initially, the site eventually consisted of barracks, mess hall, classrooms, radio shack, theater and auditorium, gymnasium, and an officers' mess. Dubbed Camp Savage, the school's first classes began on June 1, 1942 with a total of 200 soldiers enrolled. Within two years, the school grew to have 52 academic sections, 27 civilian and 65 enlisted instructors, and 1100 students.
A typical day at the camp consisted of nine hours of studying the Japanese language, a 90-minute lunch break and a two-and-a-half hour dinner break. On the weekends, the soldiers' time was spent recreating on site or visiting Minneapolis or St. Paul. Those who completed classes at the school were stationed throughout the Pacific Theater and in Alaska. Their duties included translating captured documents, monitoring Japanese radio broadcasts, interrogating captured enemy soldiers, and translating for Japanese-speaking civilians.
In 1944, the school outgrew its facilities in Savage and was relocated to Fort Snelling in Minneapolis.
Today, there is little left of Camp Savage except for a historical marker erected in 1993. The lone remaining building is used by the Minnesota Department of Transportation Highway Department. The adjacent land has been turned back to the City and is being used as a public dog park.