The Purple Heart Battalion: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team

This is one of those uniquely American stories that finds its origins in national trauma and mistrust. It is about resilience and the determination of a people to prove their loyalty to the country they loved, in spite of discrimination and mistrust that in many cases turned to hatred.

Shortly after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order, #9066, which ordered the internment of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans in camps around the country, mostly in the West. More than two-thirds of these people were native-born American citizens. They were removed from their homes, stripped of their property and possessions, and held in isolated camps under armed guard.

It would have been understandable if these Japanese-Americans reacted to this with resentment and anger, but, in fact, very shortly after these internments began, over 10,000 Japanese young men from Hawaii alone signed up to fight for their country.

Photo: YouTube/American Veterans Center

The first all-Japanese fighting unit to be formed was the 100th Infantry Battalion. Their motto was, “Go For Broke.” That phrase encompasses their determination to show their loyalty to the United States of America and their willingness to risk everything to prove it.

This unit fought all over the European Theater with great distinction. On June 11, 1944, before the unit was to be sent into Italy to participate in the efforts to liberate that country from the Germans and the Italian Fascists, the 100th was redesignated the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was this unit that would ultimately become the most decorated unit of its size in American military history.

Photo: YouTube/American Veterans Center

The 442nd would fight courageously all through Italy but became most famous for its efforts in southern France when they were called upon to rescue the so-called “Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains in October of 1944. Members of the 1st Battalion of the 141st Texas Regiment had been cut off and surrounded by far superior numbers of German troops. They were down to minimum levels of food, water, and ammunition. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was given orders to rescue the “Lost Battalion.”

The fight that the 442nd put up was as ferocious as that seen at any time in WWII. The battle went on for five days against far superior odds, but the 442nd kept pushing forward, despite heavy losses. They finally reached the men of the 141st Texas Regiment on October 30th.

Photo: YouTube/American Veterans Center

At the end of that battle to rescue the men of the Lost Battalion, the 442nd had suffered losses in dead and wounded that were two to three times greater than the 275 men of the 141st Texas Regiment they saved. It was after this engagement that the 442nd began to be known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.”

After this engagement, the 442nd continued pushing forward, helping the allied effort to push the German forces back into Germany. In fact, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team helped to liberate the concentration camp at Dachau. The irony was not lost on them that their own families were being held in camps back home.

Photo: YouTube/American Veterans Center

By the end of WWII, the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team had received over 18,000 awards for valor on the field of battle. Among them were: 21 Medals of Honor (One to Daniel Inoue, who would later become a Senator from Hawaii), 33 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars, and 7,000 Purple Hearts. The unit was also awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations.

The valor and the sacrifices made by the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team must never be forgotten. Their story is uniquely American. It is yet another story that reveals the depths of patriotism and love of liberty that so-called minority groups and immigrants have for this country and that stands as a reminder to the rest of us that our common cause as Americans is far greater and more important than our perceived or preconceived “differences.” E Pluribus Unum!

The Veterans Site honors the memory of those who fought for this country, for the defense of freedom, and for the liberation of Europe in the all-Japanese 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in WWII. You honored your motto, “Go for Broke,” and you honored the high ideals of true patriotism. Hooah!

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