This Memorial Day, I would like to honor the men who served and died with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.
Initially, the United States didn’t want Japanese Americans serving in combat units during World War II. Then it changed its mind and decided to form an all-Nisei unit to fight in Europe. (Nisei were the second generation Japanese in America and the first generation born in this country.)
Actually, it was never an all-Nisei unit. The United States was perfectly happy to have Japanese Americans fight and die for their country, but it refused to commission them as officers. So the Nisei soldiers in the 442nd fought under the command of their white brothers.
And they fought with courage and honor. According to many sources, the 442nd has the distinction of being the most decorated infantry regiment in the history of the United States Army. This includes 9,486 Purple Hearts, eight Presidential Unit Citations, and 21 Medals of Honor.
All of this came at a high human cost. The 4,000-man unit needed frequent replacements for the soldiers who died or were wounded in battle. In all, approximately 14,000 men served in the 442nd during World War II.
One of its most famous exploits was rescuing the “Lost Battalion” in October 1944. Two hundred plus men from a Texas battalion were surrounded by German troops, and the 442nd was ordered to rescue them. The rescue itself was a success, but the men of the 442nd fought one of the bloodiest battles of the war at a cost of 200 dead and 800 wounded.
But the most unusual thing about the men of the 442nd was their loyalty to a country that showed no loyalty to them or their families. While they were fighting and dying in France, their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and wives and children were incarcerated behind barbed wire in the deserts and swamps of the western United States.
So join me in saluting the men who served and died with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The photo at the top of this page shows Japanese-American infantrymen of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team hiking up a muddy road in the Chambois Sector of France in late 1944. It is an official army photograph and is in the public domain.