Here’s How A Japanese Battalion Became One Of The Most Highly Decorated Units In U.S. Military HistoryDan Doyle
The devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, by two waves of Japanese fighters, torpedo planes and bombers, changed everything.
In a matter of a few short hours, the Pacific Fleet of battleships was decimated, and by the end of the attack, 2,235 military personnel were killed in action along with 68 civilians. Exactly 1,177 of those military deaths were on the USS Arizona alone.
With that attack we had been drawn into the most devastating war in history and it would engage us in both the Pacific and the European theatres.
But life changed even more dramatically for a the Japanese-American populations in Hawai’i and on the U.S. mainland. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the infamous Executive Order 9066 within two months of the attack at Pearl on February 19, 1942. This authorized the removal of any or all Japanese from military areas, “as deemed necessary or desirable.”
By June of 1942, 110,000 Japanese-Americans had been relocated to remote internment camps built by the U.S. military in scattered areas around the country. These Americans would endure their confinement in these camps for the next two and a half years during the war.
In Hawai’i, many Japanese young men had already joined the Hawai’i National Guard long before the Pearl Harbor attack. They joined because they, like all who joined the National Guard, saw it as a way to serve the nation.
After Pearl Harbor, the 1,300 soldiers of Japanese descent in the Hawai’i National Guard were pulled from their regiments and formed into the 100th Battalion (Separate). They called themselves the “One Puka Puka.” They were not only separated from the Hawai’i National Guard, but were sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. This was done as much to remove them as a “security risk” as to “train” them.
The 100th, (the “One Puka Puka”) not only went, but they proved to be a dedicated and hard working unit. They performed so well that the War Department decided to form an all Japanese-American Combat Team with them.
Other Japanese-Americans wanted to serve as well. The vast majority came from the Hawai’ian Islands, but over 800 volunteers entered from their various internment camps as well. These volunteers were joined up with the 100th then at Camp Shelby in Mississippi where they trained further together as the 442nd Infantry Regiment. This unit was designed to be a self-sufficient combat unit with its own artillery and logistics.
It was a matter of policy with the U.S. military that this unit would not see service in the Pacific. There were still lingering worries in the U.S. military about their loyalty even though the Japanese-American soldiers had previously been required to sign “loyalty” questionnaires. Despite this, some of these men would be assigned to serve in the Military Intelligence Service. They would play an important and very crucial role in the Pacific Theatre as interpreters, interrogators, and even as spies.
The original 100th left Camp Shelby and was joined up with the 34th Infantry Division in North Africa to prepare for the Invasion of Italy. The 442nd would continue training at Camp Shelby.
The “One Puka Puka” would go ashore in Italy at Salerno and at Anzio. They would participate in the bloody battle to retake Monte Cassino, the old Benedictine monastery that had been occupied by the Germans in early 1944. They would fight so fiercely, exposed to the German defenses and absorbing tremendous casualties, but never giving ground.
They took so many casualties that the war correspondents began to call them the “Purple Heart Battalion.” This was an accurate moniker as some of the platoons in the 100th were down to less than ten men.