Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage MonthMay 3, 2022
Honoring the Sacrifice and Service of Japanese Americans who fought During WWII
After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States military questioned the loyalty of all Nisei -- American-born Japanese people -- and service members of Japanese descent. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which laid the groundwork for the mass relocation of more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to internment camps.
Despite the growing racism against them, many Japanese Americans answered the call to serve in the United States military during World War II.
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are proud to highlight the valor and service of some of the most notable Asian-Pacific American service members during WWII.
100th Infantry Battalion
The 1,432 Nisei serving in the Hawaii National Guard were sent to Oakland, California and transferred to a newly formed unit under the name, “The 100th Infantry Battalion,” because they were viewed as a security threat.
After training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, they were deployed to the Mediterranean in August 1943. The unit entered combat on September 27, 1943, near Salerno in Southern Italy.
The battalion fought well, but took heavy casualties. The War Department was impressed with the valor of the Hawaii Nisei, as they had earned six awards of the Distinguished Service Cross in the first eight weeks of combat. They recommended that more Nisei be recruited for an all-volunteer Nisei combat unit, the 442d Regimental Combat Team (RCT).
442nd Regimental Combat Team
On February 1, 1943, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was activated. Composed of American-born Japanese, the 442nd joined the 100th Infantry battalion in Italy on June 26, 1944. During the first two months, the 442nd RCT earned nine Distinguished Service Crosses. The 100th Infantry Battalion formally joined the 442nd RCT as their first battalion on August 10, 1944.
In September 1944 the 442nd RCT was assigned to the invasion of Southern France to drive into the Vosges Mountain. During just four weeks of heavy combat, the 442nd liberated Bruyeres and Biffontaine, and rescued a “lost battalion,” which had been cut off from the division.
Today, the 442nd is remembered for their exceptional service as the most decorated unit – for its size and length of service – in the history of the US military. In total, about 18,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor, and an unprecedented seven Presidential Unit Citations.
Daniel K. Inouye
Daniel K. Inouye was well-known for being a United States senator from Hawaii, but long before his days in the Senate, he devoted his life to service for his country during World War II. In 1943, he volunteered for duty as a member in the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
In April 1945, during an assault of a German-held ridge in Italy, Inouye was shot in the torso and leg, and suffered a serious injury that led to the amputation of his arm.
“…he fired and his rifle grenade smashed into my right elbow and exploded. I looked at my dangling arm and saw my grenade still clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore,” Inouye said, recounting the attack.
Before the grenade exploded, he pried it from his injured arm and threw it back at the enemy. Inouye survived the initial surgery, during which he received 17 blood transfusions unsedated (due to the amount of morphine that was already in his system), as well as a series of further surgeries in the following weeks.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery and was honorably discharged from the Army with the rank of Captain in 1947. In 2000, Inouye was awarded the nation’s highest military award for bravery, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic service during WWII.
Inouye went on to serve as the United States Senator from Hawaii for almost 50 years. Daniel Inouye died on December 17, 2012, at the age of 88. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his selfless service to his nation.
"Go For Broke" was the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, meaning to put everything on the line in an effort to win big - something all Nisei understood all too well.