The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was activated on February 1, 1943, and was composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, also known as the Nisei. Later known as the 442nd Infantry Regiment–and also including the 100th Infantry Battalion—the unit fought primarily in the European Theater, specifically within southern France, Italy, and Germany.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese-American men were initially not subject to the draft. Further, in February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry largely on the West Coast. In Hawaii–where many of the members of the 442nd would later originate from–the military imposed martial law, including curfews and blackouts, as concentration camps were not practical with the large population of people of Japanese ancestry.
However, Japanese-American soldiers within the Hawaii Territorial Guard were discharged by General Delos C. Emmons, commander of the U.S. Army in Hawaii. Despite this, additional Japanese-American soldiers within the Hawaii National Guard were permitted to remain. The discharged soldiers created the Varsity Victory Volunteers in order to still assist in the war effort.
General Emmons later pushed for the 289th and 299th of the Hawaii National Guard to be organized into the “Hawaiian Provisional Battalion” and sent to the mainland, over concerns about the loyalty of Japanese-American soldiers in a potential Japanese invasion. The Hawaiian Provisional Battalion were sent to Camp McCoy and then designated as the 100th Infantry Battalion, also known as the “One Puka Puka.”
Because of the actions of both the Varsity Victory Volunteers and the 100th Infantry Battalion, the War Department moved to activate the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 232nd Engineer Combat Company, all Japanese-American Combat Teams.
Two questions were later added to draft registration forms: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?” and “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?” Some Nisei answered no to both questions, indicating they never had an allegiance to Japan, while others left the answers blank. Even though many responded “yes” to these questions, some still criticized the U.S. government’s imprisonment of draft resisters, acknowledging the resisters’ “legal and moral arguments against incarceration, conscription, and the racial segregation of Nisei soldiers in the army.”
Many indicated that they were willing to enlist and swear allegiance to the United States. When the US Army called for 1,500 volunteers from Hawaii and 3,000 from the mainland, more than 10,000 men from Hawaii volunteered, while those from the mainland numbered far less. After later readjustments to the numbers, around 3,000 men from Hawaii and 800 men from the mainland were inducted, with more drafted in the future. Roosevelt would later go on to say “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.”
The 442nd began their training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi in April 1943. They were composed of multiple units, including three infantry battalions–the first being the 100th Infantry Battalion–as well as the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, an anti-tank company, cannon company, service company, medical detachment, headquarters companies, and the 206th Army Band. Generally, these units of Japanese-Americans were forbidden to fight within the Pacific Theater, and saw action only in Europe. On June 26, 1944, the 442nd went into battle in Tuscany, Italy.
After Italy, the 442nd would go on to participate in the invasion of Southern France in September 1944, liberating many French cities from Nazi occupation and fighting alongside the 92nd Infantry Division, a segregated African American unit. The 442nd’s motto was “Go For Broke.”
For their service, the 442nd Infantry Regiment would become the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in US History. Many men who served were awarded Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, Silver Star Medals, Medals of Honor, and Presidential Unit Citations. In 2010, the unit would be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Going For Broke: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Article on the National WWII Museum Website
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