The 442nd Regimental Combat Team

The Most Decorated Unit in American History
By Joanne Lee ‘06

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, which drove America into World War II, Japanese Americans were classified as “Enemy Aliens” and were not allowed to enlist in the military. In addition, the American government forced Japanese Americans, including many who were American citizens, to relocate to internment camps in the western wasteland areas of the country.
But in 1943, the government, headed by President Roosevelt, decided to allow Japanese Americans to serve in an entirely Japanese-American battalion, the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team. Though they were treated with suspicion by many Americans, several young Japanese American men of the Nisei generation still volunteered to join the group of approximately 4,500 troops. Many of these volunteers chose to fight in the war because they wanted to better the future of the Japanese in America by showing their dedication and loyalty to the country through this endeavor.

The troops in the 442nd Regiment trained in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and were then sent overseas to Europe for combat. With their battle cry, “Go for Broke!” they fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France, and Germany, but accomplished their greatest victory in their rescue of the “Lost Battalion” in Southern France. The regiment lost more than 800 troops as they liberated 211 men of the Texan Lost Battalion.

For their valor the 442nd Regiment has been recognized as the most decorated unit in American history. They earned more than 18,000 awards, including 9,500 Purple Hearts, 5,200 Bronze Star Medals, 588 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 7 Distinguished Unit Citations, and one Congressional Medal of Honor.


I think it is truly sad how these war veterans were treated following their return to America. I expected that Americans would change their view of the Japanese Americans and realize their worth. Yet this was not the case – anti-Japanese sentiments were still rampant. Instead of being welcomed home by Americans as heroes, many of the soldiers met continued hostility: their homes and property were vandalized and burned down, they were denied services in shops and restaurants, and signs like “No Japs Allowed” were posted. Therefore, though they received medals and were honored for their actions by the government, the Japanese Americans were still considered by some Americans as outsiders and members of an inferior race that should be excluded from the country.

It is a shame that not even one of the noblest and self-sacrificing acts on the part of the Japanese Americans for these American people was enough to merit their acceptance. This really made me understand how fiercely some Americans hated the Japanese Americans and how strongly they opposed the assimilation of the Japanese into American culture. As Ronald Takaki says in Strangers from a Different Shore, it seemed that the Japanese Americans would always be viewed by some as “strangers,” no matter how just their cause and how loyal to the country they proved to be.

But I was encouraged by the American people who came to these soldiers’ aid in opposition to the hostilities. Comrades who had served with these Japanese Americans in the war as well as other open-minded Americans came to the Japanese Americans’ side. This shows that the Japanese Americans did succeed in changing some people’s views about them through the bravery they showed in the war. The significance of their actions became even more apparent during the next ten years, when discrimination against the Japanese Americans gradually subsided. The Alien Land Law, Oriental Exclusion Act, anti-naturalization laws, and miscegenation laws, among other laws and statutes, were rescinded to allow Asian Americans the equality they had long fought for.

President Truman said to the soldiers, in his speech to the 442nd battalion, “You fought not only the enemy, you fought prejudice – and you won.” I agree that like the 54th regiment of the Civil War, in which Black Americans fought for a country that had formerly enslaved them, the men of the 442nd battalion showed so much courage in fighting adversity and decades of discrimination with hope and determination to carry out an important duty for America. These Japanese Americans emerged from the shadows of the internment camps and the sufferings of their parents to uphold the honor of their culture and people. In fighting for a country that had thwarted their efforts to thrive in so many ways, their pride and valor reflected the spirit of their families who immigrated to America and strove to survive despite the hardest conditions. These soldiers paved the way for great change in the perception and status of Japanese Americans, as well as all Asian Americans, in the country that we are now proud to call home.

Works Consulted:

Tanaka, Chester. Go For Broke: A Pictorial History of the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Richmond, California: Go For Broke, Inc., 1982.

Why Is My Loyalty Questioned?: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Thinkquest. <>.

Byrne, Joe, Kyle Higuchi, Jason Opdyke, and Mario Sani. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team. <>.