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WWII - 100th/442nd

"Go for Broke"

There are many stories of the agony felt by Japanese-Americans when they learned Japan had attacked the United States. U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was 17 years old on December 7, 1941, and later wrote:
[The Japanese in Hawaii] had wanted so desperately to be accepted, to be good Americans. Now, in a few cataclysmic minutes, it was all undone and there could only be deep trouble ahead.

Pedaling along, I realized at last that I faced that trouble, too. My eyes were shaped just like those of the old man in the street. My people were only a generation removed from the land that had spawned the bombers and sent them to drop death on Hawaii. And suddenly choking with emotion, I looked up into the sky and screamed the hated words "You dirty Japs!"  Source: Go for Broke by Daniel K. Inouye.

Senator Inouye subsequently enlisted, serving in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and lost an arm fighting in Italy.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the government of the United States questioned the loyalty of Japanese-Americans. On the mainland this led to the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans, most of whom were U.S. citizens. Japanese-Americans in Hawaii were not interned in large numbers (see: Internment).

In Hawaii, the immediate reaction was to discharge all of those of Japanese descent from the military. But these young men refused to do nothing, and volunteered to do whatever labor was required to help the war effort. Their hard work and dedication as volunteers caused the military to reconsider the issue of their loyalty, and to recommend forming a unit of Japanese-Americans to fight in Europe. No Japanese-American units fought in the Pacific against Japan, with the exception of a few hundred linguists in the Military Intelligence Service. Those linguists often had to be escorted by non-Japanese service members to make sure they were not shot as spies or infiltrators.

These dedicated military men were shipped to the mainland and organized into the 100th Battalion (One Puka Puka). All the officers of the unit, at least initially, were haole (white). The unit went through basic and advanced training and did well since they were already experienced and trained military personnel who had been serving in the Hawaii National Guard and Territorial Guard. They did so well that the military decided to recruit more Japanese-Americans.

In February of 1943, a call went out for 3,000 Japanese-Americans to enlist, 1,500 of them to be from Hawaii. 10,000 Hawaii nisei (second generation Japanese-Americans) responded, and 2,600 were accepted. In contrast, on the mainland where most Japanese-Americans were in internment camps, only 1,256 volunteered for service, and about 800 were inducted. These men from Hawaii and the mainland were formed into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and sent to basic training in Louisiana.


Regimental Color Guard, 442nd RCT
Bruyeres, France, 11/12/44
U.S. Army photo

By September of 1943 the 100th Battalion landed in North Africa and entered combat for the first time. The unit next went to Italy were they experience heavy fighting and lost their first casualties. The most famous battle of the 100th Battalion was the attack on Monte Cassino defended by the German 1st Parachute Regiment. The 100th Battalion had tremendous casualties in this battle. After 5 months in combat the 1,300 men of the unit had been reduced to 521.

While the 100th was in combat in Italy, the 442nd was completing training. In June of 1944 the 442nd arrived in Italy and the 100th Battalion was added to the unit as the 1st Battalion. Because of their distinguished war record, the 100th was allowed to keep their name rather than be renumbered as the 1st Battalion of the 442nd. Just as there had been some disputes between mainland and Hawaii nisei in the 442nd, there were some minor disputes between the veteran 100th and the rest of the 442nd.

The newly combined unit continued the bloody fight up the boot of Italy. As the Italian campaign was winding down, the next campaign was to be in southern France. The anti-tank artillery company of the 442nd was detached, trained to load their equipment in gliders, and landed with glider and parachute troops in the initial airbourne assault on LeMuy, France. You may want to read the account of this glider attack by Toro Hirose. After this assault the anti-tank company was reattached to the 442nd.

The entire 442nd went to France and fought many battles. Their most famous exploit was the rescue of the "Lost Battalion." The 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry, a Texas unit, was surrounded and running out of ammunition and supplies. The 442nd was ordered to rescue them, and spent 4 days in continuous fighting to do so. The 442nd suffered 800 casualties in this battle.

By the end of the war, the 100th/442nd was considered one the most decorated units in the Army. But only one member of the unit had earned the Medal of Honor. Over the years after the war many people questioned whether the Japanese-Americans in the unit had been fairly treated regarding medals and awards. A review of their files led to another 20 men of the 100th/442nd being awarded the Medal of Honor on June 21, 2000. It was generally agreed that they had been denied the Medal of Honor during the war because they were Japanese.

The lineage and honors of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team are today carried on in the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry. The battalion is assigned to the 9th Regional Support Command at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.

For further reading:

Remarks of Edward Ichiyama, 522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT.
Go For Broke Educational Foundation. "Go for broke" was the motto of the 442nd.
Katonk.com. Katonk is a mildly offensive term for a mainland Japanese-American. Hawaiian Japanese-Americans are called Buddha-heads. 442nd history site.
Asian - Pacific Americans & the U.S. Army. U.S. Army Center for Military History.
Japanese Eyes American Hearts: Personal Reflections of Hawaii's World War II Nisei Soldiers

Return to:  Pearl Harbor | History of Hawaii

About the Author:  Brian N. Durham is currently editor of My Hawaii News, a publication of The 'Ohana Network.  A retired Coast Guard officer with 22 years of service, Brian is a member of the Hawaii Bar and has worked for the Hawaii State Legislature and the Linda Lingle Campaign Committee.


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