They had a reason to fight. They had a purpose that transcended the discrimination they and their families endured. They were Americans, proud Americans, even though the nation did not believe so in those fearful days after Pearl Harbor.
I’m talking about the Japanese Americans who, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 were gathered up and transported to several internment camps around the country, because they were Japanese. But they saw themselves as Americans, one and all. Even in the face of this injustice, they were determined to prove their loyalty to the country they loved.
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Two all-Japanese Army units were formed by the thousands of Nisei, second generation Japanese, men signed up to fight for the country that was interning their families. The formed the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They went to war in Europe and fought fiercely through campaigns in Italy, France, and Germany.
But, they fought with such distinction that the defeated the prejudices of their fellow American soldiers with displays of valor on a scale that was not seen before.
During WWII, the Army listed around an 18% desertion rate. The 100th and the 442 had zero desertions. In fact, they had a reverse record. Many of the Japanese American troops checked out of the hospitals they were being treated for their wounds to return to the fight with their brothers.
The 100th Infantry Bn and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team would be awarded 9,468 Purple Hearts, over 4,000 Bronze Stars, 560 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Medals and 21 Medals of Honor. They would also be awarded 7 Presidential Unit Citations.
On July 15, 1947, President Harry S. Truman honored them in Washington, D.C. telling them, “You fought the enemy abroad and at home and you won.”
The story of these two Japanese American military units, and that of their families in the internment camps is an American Story. It is part of the complex, complicated, and diverse fabric of our American history. Out of prejudice, fear, and racial discrimination came a story of true American courage, dignity, and honor.
This nation is great not because of its economic wealth, or its military power, or its political ideals alone. It has failed to live up to its founding ideal on many occasions and both caused and endured great suffering because of that. But it has also grown in many ways through its own often difficult self-reflection and through the examples of the heroic actions of those once discriminated against.
In our long history, we have failed to live up to our ideals on many occasions. We are not yet free of those tendencies when we feel ourselves threatened by perceived or real internal or external challenges. In those times it is good to be reminded of our nobler ideals.
All of us who have fought in combat know that freedom is not free. But those Japanese American soldiers in the 100th Infantry Bn and the 442nd Regimental Combat team, (as well as our Native American and African American veterans who fought despite the challenges of discrimination) know that wisdom better than most. Their courage in the face of the national distrust of them made their service to the nation and their unselfish, determined fight for freedom in the face of Nazi and Japanese Imperial tyranny, is an example for all of us.
The Veteran Site wishes to keep the memory of those the 101st Infantry Bn, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team soldiers who fought, suffered and died in service to their beloved United States of America alive.
We honor their service and express our most sincere thanks for their courage and for showing us all our better natures.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.