The 442nd in France in late 1944; image courtesy of US Army [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Following the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7th of 1941, many patriotic Japanese American citizens wanted to enlist in the armed forces. It wasn’t long, however, because of anti-Japanese hysteria, before their Selective Service classification as IV-C, Enemy Aliens, made them ineligible for service. But a year later in January of 1943, following the fiasco of the internment camps and the government’s realization that Japanese Americans posed no threat to the homeland, news came down from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson: “The War Department announced today that plans have been completed for the admission of American citizens of Japanese ancestry to the Army of the United States….” Simultaneously, there was a decision to allow Japanese civilians to work in war-related industries.
The unit formed by the army for Japanese Americans (exclusively) was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In the case of the Tule Lake internment camp, recruits headed first to Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, where they were formally inducted into the Army. From there they traveled to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, for training. Beginning in 1944, the 442nd began serving in Italy, southern France, and Germany. When the war in Europe ended, for its size and length of service, the 442nd became the most highly decorated unit in American military history, with 18,000 medals.
Americans back home read in their newspapers about the unit’s bravery and sacrifices. In no small measure, the heroic, patriotic actions of those Japanese-American soldiers countered the suspicions, fears, and racism of those who had lobbied to have Japanese Americans interned.
Interesting aside: The motto of the 442nd was “Go for Broke.” That slogan became the title for the 1951 Hollywood movie starring Van Johnson, as well as several veterans of the 442nd.
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This post was written by paulmarktag