Standards of Co.'s A.B.C. and D, of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regiment, 34th Division, composed of Americans of Japanese descent.
World War II
The US was at war with Japan—but this distinguished Japanese American battalion was determined to defend its country.
By Joel Miyasaki
Published June 24, 2020
The history of Japanese American soldiers during World War II is a lesser-known tale of wartime patriotism and courage. Despite being subjected to prejudice and confinement during the war, some Japanese Americans responded by bravely fighting for their country.
In the months after Pearl Harbor, many young Japanese Hawaiians sought to overturn their racial exclusion from the military, first through service as members of the Varsity Victory Volunteers and later as part of the first segregated Japanese American unit, the 100th Infantry Battalion. They left Hawaii in June of 1942, trained in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and eventually transferred to Africa to join the Allied Forces’ invasion of Italy where they quickly gained a reputation for valor.
From the beginning of the war, some Japanese Americans on the mainland had pushed to prove their loyalty on the battlefield, and the impressive exploits of the 100th Battalion inspired the military to form a larger segregated Japanese American combat team in March of 1943. More than 2,500 enthusiastic Japanese Hawaiians and 1,500 volunteers from the mainland internment camps came together to form the 442nd Regimental Combat Group. During their training, the regional and cultural differences between Hawaiian and mainland soldiers generated tension. However, while stationed at Fort Shelby, Mississippi, soldiers were invited to visit the Japanese Americans interned in Arkansas and for the first time they witnessed the barbed wire and armed guards at the camps. A future senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye, remembered, “Immediately our assessment and estimate of our mainland cousins suddenly changed, in our eyes they were heroes.” As the two groups melded into a cohesive team, they adopted the pidgin phrase “Go for Broke” as their motto.
Soon the 442nd arrived to reinforce the 100th Battalion as Allied troops pushed through Northern Italy. Ultimately, the 100th would be absorbed by the 442nd, and members of this now larger and stronger group fought with distinction in Italy and France. Once, they famously rescued a lost Texas Battalion that had become separated from their fellow American troops in the Vosges Mountains. Spending, perhaps, more than their fair share of time on the front lines, they became known for their bravery while suffering heavy casualties. Historians have noted that the 442nd became the most decorated combat team of its size during the war. In fact, President Harry S. Truman personally delivered one of their seven distinguished unit citations and offered his evaluation of their exploits, “You fought the enemy abroad and prejudice at home, and you won.”