This Memorial Day weekend, we remember the honor, the courage, and the sacrifice of Americans of Japanese ancestry who served in the American armed forces during World War II.
As the United States entered WWII, there were many American politicians, columnists, broadcasters, and military officials who questioned the loyalty of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Fueled by the venomous rhetoric of Lt. Gen. DeWitt and columnist Walter Lippmann, some politicians went so far as to say that Japanese Americans were disloyal as a group and a danger to American national security. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Men and women volunteered from the Camps and from Hawaii to serve in the military. The Densho Encyclopedia estimates that approximately 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the Army during World War II and/or in the immediate aftermath with the occupation forces. Of these, an estimated 6,000 people served in the Military Intelligence Service and 18,000 men served with the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team. [From, Densho Encyclopedia]
The first two women enlistees, [from Dept. of Defense Archives]
It is difficult to find an exact number of Japanese American women who served in the armed forces during WW II. I have not found a reliable number I can share. However, the following illustrates the range of military occupations of the women who did serve…
“…many second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) women wore U.S. military uniforms. Nisei women contributed to U.S. war efforts in various ways, including as army personnel, military nurses and doctors, as well as photo interpreters and linguists with the Military Intelligence Service. The history of Nisei women in the U.S. military began when the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) started to accept Nisei women in February and November 1943, respectively. The backgrounds, experiences, and struggles of Nisei women who served in these corps have just started to be revealed in the last couple of decades by scholars.” [from, “Japanese American Women in Military” in Densho Encyclopedia]
At the conclusion of training, [from Densho Encyclopedia]
Men served with courage and distinction in the U.S. Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Suffering tremendous casualties in the European theater, the 442nd was one of the most highly decorated units in the war. One reliable source estimates the total number who served in combat at between 7,500 and 8,500. I have been unable to find more definitive statistics.
Known by it’s bravery and toughness, the 442nd had the motto, “Go For Broke.” This painting, which recreates a battle of 442nd infantrymen against German tanks, gives an inkling of what the motto reflected. [Source: U.S. Army Center for Military History]
In little more than one and a half years of battle, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was involved in five major campaigns in Europe.
On the march toward battle, [White River Valley Museum]
Rescuing the “Lost Battalion,” [Japanese American Museum, San Jose, CA]
The men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were awarded an extraordinary number of individual military honors:
Units of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were awarded six Distinguished Unit Citations, with one awarded in person by President Harry S. Truman.
President Truman and the 442nd [National Museum of American History-Smithsonian]
During the one and a half years of battle, the 442nd sustained terrible casualties:
[Source: Densho Encyclopedia]
“…I had the honor to command the men of the 442nd Combat Team. You fought magnificently in the field of battle and wrote brilliant chapters in the military history of our country.”
“They demonstrated conclusively the loyalty and valor of our American citizens of Japanese ancestry in combat.”
General Mark W. Clark
“All of us can’t stay in the [internment] camps until the end of the war. Some of us have to go to the front. Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated. I don’t know if I’ll make it back.”
Tech. Sgt. Abraham Ohama, Company “F”, 442nd RCT,
Killed in Action 10/20/1944
Of course, Manzanar had its own group of young men who volunteered to serve in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Four of these young men were killed in action while fighting with the 442nd:
Pfc. Frank N. Arikawa – July 6, 1944
Sgt. Paul T. Kitsuse – November 2, 1944
Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori – April 5, 1945
Sgt. Robert K. Nakasaki – April 5, 1945
“Manzanar has its first gold star mother. We had dreaded the day when some family in Manzanar would receive the fateful telegram….”
[Manzanar Free Press article on Pfc. Frank Arikawa’s death]
Grace and peace to you,