This is an all-American story, as full of irony as it is full of glory. It is a story that arose out of fears and angers on one side and out of determination, patriotism and courage on the other. The terrors of that worldwide war brought out both the worst and the best of the American soul. Suffering is at the center of this story, but so too is great heroic courage and unbreakable patriotism. It is a story of American imperfections and American ideals revealed through the force of then unseen irony.
The times were rife with legitimate fears. Pearl Harbor was fresh in everyone’s mind. The Imperial Japanese Empire had conducted a surprise attack on U.S. territory with devastating effects. Anger and a desire for vengeance became the natural and righteous national response. But one result of that anger and fear was that Japanese-American citizens became suspect in the minds of many.
Within two months of Pearl Harbor, on February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 creating certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese living in America at the time, 0ver 60% of whom were American citizens.
Out of this injustice something of greatness arose. Thousands of young Japanese men who were born, raised and grew up as Americans and who loved this country, were determined to join the military and to fight for her. They moved by these circumstances to show the real depth of their patriotism.
These men not only joined, but proved their loyalty and courage on battlefields all over Europe. The original volunteers formed the 100th Regimental Combat Team and fought in Europe with great courage and skill. The 100th would be reinforced and eventually folded into another regiment called the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
This Regiment would become the most decorated military unit in WWII.
Their motto was, “Go For Broke!” And they did that with an intensity that was second to none. Among their most famous battles was when they were sent to rescue the “Lost Battalion.”
The Lost Battalion was the 141st Infantry of the 36th Infantry Division. The unit was originally a Texas National Guard unit. They had been surrounded by German forces in the Vosges Mountains on Oct. 24, 1944. Two-hundred and seventy-five of the 36th’s soldiers were trapped. The 371st Fighter Group was dropping ammunition and supplies to them, but the situation quickly deteriorated.
The 442nd was called upon to make a rescue attempt. They had just come away from a fierce fight just before where they had liberated the towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine. Starting on October 26, the 442nd fought a fierce battle against superior German forces. They finally broke through the German defenses, rescuing 275 men of the 36th Infantry on October 30.
The cost to the 442nd was great. They suffered over 800 casualties. India Co. went in with 185 men. Only eight came out unhurt. Kilo Co. started the engagement with 186 men but 169 were killed or wounded. It was at this battle that the 442nd became known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.”
Units of the 442nd were also involved, ironically, in the liberation of the German concentration camp at Dachau. They accomplished all of this while their own families were being held in internment camps in their own country. The level of sacrifice that the 442nd offered to this country is second to none. Their patriotism and willing sacrifice in the name of liberty both abroad and at home was uncompromising.
By the end of the war, the 442nd had become the most decorated military unit in U.S. history. They had been awarded over 18,000 individual medals. Among the medals awarded were: 21 Medals Of Honor, 33 Distinguished Service Crosses, 500 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars, and the unit had been awarded the Presidential Unit Citation eight times.
The Veteran Site sends its gratitude to all of those who fought and sacrificed in the Purple Heart Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII.
To the few who remain with us, we promise to never forget your courage and your patriotism. You all showed us what “Go For Broke” means, both on the field of battle and at home. We cannot thank you enough.
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.