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
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
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
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.
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. <http://library.thinkquest.org/CR0210341/442nd/splash442nd.htm>.
Byrne, Joe, Kyle Higuchi, Jason Opdyke, and Mario Sani. The 442nd
Regimental Combat Team. <http://www.scu.edu/SCU/Programs/Diversity/442nd.html>.