Japanese Americans had been part of the United States since 1885. This year marks the 134th year anniversary of large scale Japanese immigration.

Today, there are more than a million Japanese Americans. This number is about one half of one percent of the U.S. population.

Because of the size, their story has often been overlooked or sometimes forgotten. Yet, their story is important and, in many ways, unique.

Like most European immigrants, Japanese Americans came to the United States for economic opportunity. Unlike their European counterparts, they were not fleeing a hostile or oppressive government or king. Yet, Japanese Americans experienced prejudice and discrimination, perhaps to a higher degree than any other immigrant group.

From the very beginning, Japanese Americans were deprived of rights that were guaranteed to other immigrants. They were denied Constitutional rights to become citizens, own land, live in certain areas, or enter many professions. Many local, state and Federal laws were passed, excluding them from the opportunities enjoyed by other new immigrants.

After the outbreak of World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, businesses and land and were sent to ten remote and desolate concentration camps. Many languished in these camps until the end of the war. Yet, their resolve and faith in the U.S. never wavered. According to historian Edwin O. Reichauer, “None retained greater faith in the basic ideals of America or showed stronger determination to establish their rights to full equality and justice, even when their fellow Americans seemed to deny them both. None shared greater loyalty to the United States or greater willingness to make sacrifices in the battlefield or at the home front for their country.”

More than 33,000 second generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) served faithfully, honorably and with courage in the Armed Forces of the United States. It can be said that they fought a war on two fronts: a war against the enemies in Europe and the Pacific, and the enemy of prejudice at home.


Go For Broke!

Japanese American Soldiers

Fighting on Two Fronts



Curated by

Eric Saul


Text written by:

Chester Tanaka

Shig Kihara

Eric Saul


In Cooperation With:

National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution

Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island

National Park Service

Japanese American National Museum

National Japanese American Historical Society

Nisei Veterans Legacy Center

Japanese American Veterans Association

Club 100

442 Club

Hawaii State Archives





The Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts exhibit was made possible with the help of the following organizations:  National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS), San Francisco; Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Los Angeles; 442nd Veterans Club, Honolulu; Club 100, Honolulu; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; Gedenkstaette Dachau, Munich; Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC), Los Angeles; Hawaii State Archives, Honolulu; Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation; Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA), Washington, DC; Library of Congress; MIS Veterans Clubs, Norcal and Honolulu; National Archives and Records Administration; Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, Maui; Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles; Sons and Daughters of the 442nd RCT, Hololulu; Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island and the National Park Service; Survivors of the Outer Camps of Dachau; Twin Cities JACL Chapter.

We would like to thank the following Japanese American veterans: Chester Tanaka, Mike Masaoka, Tom Kawaguchi, Terry Shima, Shig Kihara, Harry Iwafuchi, Hiro Takasugawa, Shig Doi, Senator Daniel Inouye, MH, Senator Spark Matsunaga, Colonel Mitsuyoshi Fukuda, Judge John Aiso, Paul T. Bannai, Frank Dobashi, Kenji Ego, Monty Fujita, Colonel Harry Fukuhara, Nobuo Furuiye, Liebe Geft, Hank Gosho, Tak Goto, Richard Hayashi, Chaplain Hiro Higuchi, Albert Ichihara, Ichiro Imamura, Susumo Ito, Shig Iwasaki, Arthur Kaneko, Shiro Kashino, DSC, Bob Katayama, Mas Kawaguchi, Colonel Tom Kobayashi, Mits Kojimoto, Bob Kubo,  Joseph Kurata, Ben Kuroki, Don Kuwaye, Buddy Mamiya, Tad Masaoka, Clarence Matsumura, Robert Midzuno, Ted Miyagishima, Mitch Miyamoto, Art Morimitsu, Mote Nakasato, William Nakatani, Wally Nunotani, Ron Oba, William Oda, Paul Ohtaki, Tosh Okamoto, George Ouiye, Colonel Henry Oyasato, Barry Saiki, Lawson Sakai, Haru Sakaji, George Sakato, MH, Robert Sasaki, Bob Sato, Yone Satoda, Satoru Shikiasho, Terry Shima, Marshall Sumida, Kan Tagami, Michio Takata, Shiro Takeshita, Ben Tamashiro, Milton Tanizawa, Bob Thompson, Tadashi Tojo, Rudy Tokiwa, Shiro Tokuno, Mel Tominaga, John Tsukano, Ted Tsukiyama, Gene Uratsu, Marvin Uratsu, Bob Utsumi, Jack Wakamatsu, Jun Yamamoto, Shig Yokote, Noby Yoshimura, George Yoshino, and many, many others.

Others we would like to thank are: Colonel James Hanley (Commander, 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT), Major Orville C. Shirey (Executive Officer, 442nd RCT), General William R. Peers (Commander, OSS Detachment 101), Captain Norman Kurlan and General Mark Clark.  We would also like to thank the families of General Joseph Stillwell, Colonel Charles Pence and Colonel Virgil Miller. 

We would also like to thank: Daisy Satoda, S. Dillon Ripley, Norman Mineta, Etsu Masaoka, Brian Buhl, Melanie N. Agrabante, Uri Chanoch, Abe Cooper, Loni Ding, Barbara Distel, Yo Doi, David Fukuda, Pola Ganor, Solly Ganor, Tara Hadibrata, Edgar Hamasu, Paul Hara, Mas Hashimoto, Glen Hayashi, Carole Hayashino, Shirley Ann Higuchi, JD, Phyllis Hironaka, Arnold Hirura, Ernie Hollander, Bill Hosokawa, Tom Ikeda, Mae Isonaga, George Johnson, Ann Kabasawa, Stanley Kanazaki, Bob Kane, Zvi Katz, Karen Nunotani Kern, Colonel Young O. Kim, DSC, Greg Kimura, Lillian Kimura, Don Koppel, Sharon Kulley, Luella Kurkjian, Mitch Maki, Mary Masuda, Hugo Mendoza, Claire Mitani, Archie Miyatake, Peggy Mizumoto, Darice Mori, Floyd Mori (JACL), Pierre Moulin, Sheila Newlin, Brian Niiya, Don Nose, Catherine Nunotani, Franklin S. Odo, Toshio Okamoto, Eric Penrod, Tom Pfannenstiel, Pamela Sakamoto, Frank Sato, Katriel Schorey, Ross Segawa, Susan Shaner, General Eric Shinseki, LTC Donald R. Sims, Sally Sudo, Tomoye Takahashi, Cookie Takeshita, Linda Tamura, Jim and Yoshi Tanabe, David Tanaka, Masako "Missi" Tanaka, Rosalyn Tonai, Mark Cotta Vaz, Kyle I. Watanabe, Lori Whaley, Bryan Yagi. 

The Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts exhibit that was curated and shown at the Ellis Island Museum, and later at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, was donated to the Nisei Veterans Legacy Center (NVLC) in Hawaii.  The exhibit was presented in a number of important venues, including the Hawaii State Capitol.  Special thanks go to the officers and members of the NVLC: Wes Deguchi, Glenn E. Goya, Lawrence M. G. Enemoto, Mark Matsunaga, Byrnes Yamashita.

The Early Years

1885 - 1907

Japanese laborers were recruited in Japan to replace the Chinese who were excluded from further immigrating to the United States of America in 1882. Most of the Japanese immigrants came from the less populated Western Japan where the agrarian distress was greatest.

Avoiding universal military conscription in Japan and the desire for economic improvement were some of the major factors that encouraged emigration.

Hundreds of students were sent abroad by the Japanese government to learn and to bring home Western knowledge. A few remained to make their homes in America.

Japanese laborers coming to Hawaii entered into contracts with sugar plantations for a term of 3 to 5 years.

Between 1885 and 1895, 28,691 Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii. Many soon left for the Mainland.

By 1900, there were some 60,000 Japanese residing in the Islands, forming nearly 40 percent of the total population of Hawaii. On the mainland, in 1900, there were only 24,000 Japanese. Most settled in California.

In 1900, the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands, freeing thousands of Issei from their labor contracts on Hawaiian sugar plantations. Thousands went to the mainland.

In 1906 the San Francisco school board ordered the segregation of less than 100 Japanese students, one-fourth of whom were American citizens. In rescinding the segregation order mediated by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Japanese government accepted the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in 1907 which would permit no more Japanese laborers to enter the United States.

However, between 1901 and 1908, during a period of unrestricted immigration, more than 127,000 Japanese emigrated to the U.S. This number represented less than 3% of California’s population.


The Vanguard Arrives – The Issei

Pre - 1885

Japan was a nation isolated from the rest of the world by a shogun’s decree for more than 250 years. Only the Chinese, Dutch and Koreans had limited access to Japan through a single port in Nagasaki Bay.

The very first Japanese to arrive in Hawaii were the eight shipwrecked sailors picked up by an American ship and brought to Honolulu on May 5, 1806.

In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry, leading a squadron of warships, demanded the opening of Japan to Americans. Japan was in no position to refuse.

In January 1868, the shogun was ousted from power and imperial rule restored.

With the increasing demand for plantation workers in Hawaii, the planters looked to Japan for cheap laborers. Although Japanese laws still prohibited labor emigration, 149 Japanese left on board a British ship without official clearance and arrived in Honolulu. The year was 1868, the first year of the Meiji era. These people are, therefore, referred to as Gannen Mono (first year people). The project was unsuccessful because these immigrants had been recruited from urban areas; none were farmers.

King Kalakaua, while visiting Tokyo in 1881, expressed his desire to see legal equality for Japanese in Hawaii. His effort, however, was opposed by the Western powers.

Emigration became legal in Japan in 1884, and the first official Japanese immigrants (called Issei, meaning first generation), some 900 men, women and children, arrived in Honolulu on February 8, 1885. King Kalakaua was at the immigration depot to officially welcome them.


The Deepening Roots

1907 - 1924

Most of the Issei who immigrated to the continental U.S. arrived between 1900 and 1915. Most were single men who later married, after successfully establishing themselves.

The majority of the Japanese immigrants had remained sojourners at heart, dreaming of the day they could return to their native villages with accumulated wealth. Most came to America almost penniless.

It was difficult to save money. As the years passed, their roots in America deepened. Picture brides arrived, and the family and their children, called Nisei (second generation), became the focus of the immigrants’ lives.

First arriving on the West Coast and in the Mountain States, many worked on the railroads for one dollar a day. Thousands of Japanese laborers were also employed in the saw mills, lumber camps and coal or copper mines. In interior America and on the East Coast, Japanese pioneers were few and widely scattered. Few were men of any substance who came well-financed. Many became successful farmers, flower growers, fishermen and small business owners.

The greatest impact of the Japanese on the American scene during the early decades of the Twentieth Century was in agriculture. They reclaimed unwanted land and developed it into rich agricultural areas. By 1900, the Japanese had cultivated some 4,500 acres in California; by 1919, more than 450,000 acres. In 1900, they cultivated only 4 percent of the state’s farmlands, yet produced 50 to 90 percent of fruits and vegetables.

The Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 prevented the immigrant Japanese from legally owning land and limited farmland leases to only a few years.

Further, Japanese Americans were excluded from American political life by laws, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922, that excluded persons of Asian ancestry from becoming naturalized American citizens.

The Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 stopped further Asian immigration to the United States.

The New Generation – The Nisei

1924 -1941

As the years went by, Japanese American families decided to make the United States their permanent home. These were the childhood and adolescent years of the children born to Japanese immigrants. They did well in school, and many became bilingual by attending Japanese language schools after regular classroom hours.

The cultural values that the immigrants brought with them from Japan—filial piety, perseverance, self-reliance, hard work, individual and social obligations—were inculcated into the children.

It was a period of rejection, denial, rebellion and accommodation for most Japanese Americans. Insurmountable discrimination still existed in employment, housing, public accommodations and social interaction. Faced with a permanent alien status, and seeing the intense discrimination against them and their children in America, some families sent their sons (known as Kibei) to Japan for education.

Roots in America, however, were now deep and permanent. The immigrant generation saw education as the chief tool for their children’s chance for success in America. No sacrifice was too large and no effort too great in this single-minded effort.

Just before the outbreak of war, most Japanese American families were prosperous members of the lower middle class, owning small businesses and farms.

Most children of Japanese immigrants were contemplating plans for higher education when their dreams suddenly collapsed in ruins on December 7, 1941.

Of Trial and Valor


Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese bombers on December 7, 1941. The United States declared war on Japan the following day.

In Hawaii and on the Mainland, the FBI arrested and interned hundreds of first generation Japanese community leaders. Many remained in custody for the duration of the war.

All persons of Japanese ancestry were expelled from their West Coast homes and confined in inland concentration camps. A child complained, “Mommy, I don’t like it here. Let’s go home to America.” In Hawaii, the Japanese Americans were not incarcerated en masse. On the mainland, however, a total of 120,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned without charge or a hearing. There was not a case of espionage or sabotage by Japanese Americans before, during or after Pearl Harbor.

When the United States declared war on Japan in 1941, there were about 5,000 Japanese Americans in the armed forces. Many were summarily discharged or reclassified 4C—enemy aliens ineligible for service. However, by the end of World War II, some 33,000 Japanese Americans had served in the U.S. armed forces.

In January 1943, the U.S. War Department announced that Japanese American volunteers would be accepted for combat duty. The volunteers came from Hawaii and from within the mass detention camps on the mainland. This segregated Japanese American 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service.

The need for Japanese language specialists was recognized early, and Japanese speaking men and women were covertly recruited into the Military Intelligence Service. Eventually 6,000 served in the Pacific Theater.


1945 - 1952

Japanese Americans were free to return to their homes on the West Coast in January 1945. Returning home, however, was not easy. Rightful owners had difficulty reclaiming property left behind. Japanese Americans became targets of violence and terrorism.

The Pacific War ended in August 1945, but the last concentration camp did not close until October 1946, and the last special internment camp did not close until 1952.

Reconstructing their lives was difficult. For some it was too late. Elderly pioneers had lost everything they worked for all their lives, and were now too old and shattered to start anew. Many of the American-born Nisei could no longer afford to go to college because family support became their prime responsibility.

Families had disintegrated under the prison-like conditions, and some became disoriented and embittered. Adults could never forget the experience, and children faced the life-long stigma of their birth certificate or school records indicating they spent their childhood in captivity by their own government.

Among all of the immigrants, the Japanese were the last to be granted, in 1952, the privilege of becoming naturalized American citizens. Tens of thousands joined their children in celebration of their new status as American citizens for which they had labored hard and to which they had contributed so much.


The Legacy

1952 -1987

The immigrant parents’ intense commitment to education was now bearing fruit. As opportunities opened, Japanese Americans were well-prepared. When, in 1959, Hawaii became the fiftieth state, the first Japanese American Congressman, Daniel K. Inouye, was elected.

Within a decade after World War II, nearly 600 legal barriers that had blocked Japanese American participation in the nation’s life were eliminated. Many of the laws were challenged and overturned by Japanese American veterans.

In their sunset years, the Issei immigrant generation watched their children climb up the economic, social and political ladder, reaching grounds they dared only to dream about. By 1960, less than one third of the Japanese Americans were still in agriculture and more than 38 percent were in professional and technical fields. In their children, the Issei saw the extension of their own hopes.

More than half of the succeeding generations have inter-married. In America, there is increasing acceptance and appreciation of the contributions of the multi-racial multi-cultural groups. The richness of America is in the multitude of distinct and varied ethnicity of its people.


Go For Broke!

The Story of Japanese American Soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team

This is the story of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, two units that consisted mainly of Japanese Americans, who faced the adversity of ignorance and prejudice after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but whose battlefield record helped gain the trust and respect of a nation.

The opening chapter began with the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion. At the time Pearl Harbor was bombed, there were many Japanese Americans already in the army both in Hawaii and on the mainland. A number of them were serving with the 298th and 299th Infantry Regiments, Hawaii National Guard. Others who had been drafted were stationed at Schofield Barracks. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, their loyalty was in question. Their weapons were taken away and they were assigned to menial labor duty. The Japanese Americans were classified enemy aliens: 4-C and no longer eligible for the draft. The community pressed for an active role for the Japanese Americans. In June 1942, the impending invasion of Midway Island by a Japanese armada posed a problem for the military—what role would the Japanese Americans in uniform play? The solution was to ship the Japanese Americans, officers and men, of the Hawaii National Guard to the mainland as the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion. This group was comprised of 29 officers and 1,300 enlisted men. They sailed to the mainland on June 6 and traveled by truck and rail to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin and were assigned to the Second Army. At Camp McCoy, the AJA unit from Hawaii was designated the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). In February 1943, the 100th Infantry Battalion was transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi and participated in maneuvers in Mississippi and Louisiana to undergo large-unit training. They achieved a superb training record.


Brothers in Arms

Meeting of the 100th and 442nd at Camp Shelby

On February 1, 1943, President Roosevelt authorized the formation of a combat team made up of Japanese Americans. A call went out in Hawaii and on the mainland for volunteers for an all-Japanese American unit—the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The response in Hawaii was overwhelming, as nearly 10,000 men applied. Selected were 2,645 men, including 230 draftees from Schofield Barracks. On the mainland, approximately 1,300 volunteers were selected.

In April 1943, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team assembled in Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training that would last one year. During summer of 1943, the 100th, after completing their Louisiana exercise, met briefly with the new recruits of the 442nd, a reunion of sorts for the men from Hawaii. Shortly thereafter, the 100th completed their long training period and was ready for overseas duty.

It was a time for some sibling rivalry. The island Japanese Americans were known as "buddhaheads"—­a euphemistic rendition of the pidgin Japanese term, "buta-head," meaning pighead. The Nisei mainlanders were called "kotonks"—a term connoting the sound of an empty coconut hitting the ground. Cultural differences and missed promotions seemed to play a part in the friction between the two groups. It reached the point where several bust-ups occurred. Some overbearing and officious mainland noncoms got to be too much for the buddhaheads and the sound of empty coconuts hitting the ground reverberated at Camp Shelby. The rivalry died down as soon as the 100th was alerted for overseas duty.


100th Joins 34th Red Bull Division

The 100th left the U.S. and arrived in Oran, North Africa, on September 2, 1943. After a short stay, a message came informing the 100th that they were to join the renowned 34th “Red Bull” Division of the Fifth Army.

The 34th Red Bull Division was com­posed of men from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas. The Red Bull was the first division from the United States to enter combat, and its men had fought with great distinction in North Africa. It had fought with the British to hammer the Nazis at Kasserine Pass, at Hill 609 (army term for 609 meters height), and in and around Tunis. This division had more battle experience than any other American troops at the time. The Com­manding General of the 34th Division, Maj Gen Charles W. Ryder, was elated to hear that a separate infantry battalion was available. He cared little about the color or race of the troops. He needed a fighting, dependable infantry battalion. He got the 100th.

On September 22, the 100th landed on the beaches of Salerno, Italy. Their first combat occurred at Castelvetere on September 28, where they suffered their first casualty. This was followed by fierce fighting at three separate crossings of the Volturno River. Combat intensity became even greater at Rapido River and Cassino, followed by the final breakout from the Anzio beachhead. During these battles, the 100th distinguished themselves, earning the respect of their fellow soldiers of other units. They survived enemy mine fields and assaults by enemy armor, infantry and artillery. They made bayonet charges and fought off countless counter-attacks. Their ferocity in action and their determination to win against all odds earned them the respect and trust of the U.S. Army. They earned respect with a lot of bloodshed and loss of lives. Over 1,000 Purple Hearts were awarded during this period, gaining the 100th Infantry Battalion the nickname of the “Purple Heart Battalion,” The men of the 100th had proved that their loyalty was beyond question.


The Mississippi Mud

From October 1943 through February 1944, with a few days off for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the men and officers of the 442d trained in the hills and swamps of Mississippi at Camp Shelby.  The excellent training record of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team showed they were ready for overseas action.

During combat training, the men of the 442d would field-strip rifles, move double-time on marches, and hurl grenades. Then they would work together in larger and larger fighting units. It was the period for blending and meshing the operations of squads, platoons, companies, battalions, and regiments as cogs in the juggernaut of division and army. It was the full and efficient fusion of all the components of the Combat Team - the coordi­nation of the rifle companies, battalions, and regiment with artillery, cannon, engineers, anti-tank, heavy weap­ons, and I and R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance). Unit training meant days and weeks in the field under simulated combat conditions. This was the make-or-break period for final stateside training before going overseas.

Any remaining doubts had been erased by the performance of the 100th on the battlefield. The 442nd had already sent replacements to the 100th beginning in December 1943; three complements totaling 524 enlisted men and 31 officers filled the ranks of the depleted 100th. This meant that the Regiment did not have a full complement. Therefore, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team went overseas with the 2nd and 3rd Infantry Battalions, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Cannon Company, Anti-Tank Company, Regimental Headquarters Company, Service Company, Medical Detachment, 232nd Combat Engineers, and the 206th Army Band. A group remained in Camp Shelby.


Baptism by Fire

On June 10, 1944, the 442nd RCT was attached to the 34th Division. On June 11, the 100th Infantry Battalion was attached to the 442nd RCT to serve as the 1st Battalion but keeping the 100th Battalion name. On June 26, the 442nd RCT first engaged the enemy near Suvereto spearheaded by the 2nd Battalion. Both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions encountered heavy enemy resistance. The 100th, which was in reserve, was called into action. They took the town of Belvedere and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. This outstanding victory by the 100th earned the Regiment the first Distinguished Unit Citation. The 34th Division pursued the retreating enemy northward and the Regiment participated in the capture of the port city of Livorno (Leghorn). By July 19, the enemy had been pushed back nearly 50 miles to the northern side of the Arno River. The 442nd was part of the Fifth Army holding the south side of the Arno with skirmishes taking place at times. In August 1944, the regiment was bivouacked at Vada and training continued. The Anti-Tank Company had been relieved in July and became part of the airborne invasion force that was to invade Southern France. They took part in Operation Dragoon which launched an attack near Cannes on August 15, 1944. The Anti-Tank Company would rejoin the 442nd months later on October 24 in the Vosges Mountains.


Assignment France

The Anvil Campaign

Changes in command took place, and on September 12, the 442nd was assigned to the Seventh Army and sailed to France, landing at Marseilles. There, the 442nd was assigned to the 36th Texas Division and by truck and rail traveled up the Rhone Valley to Epinal. On October 15, 1944, the 442nd began its Vosges Mountains campaign. Their objective was to take the town of Bruyères, a key transportation center. To secure the town, the enemy had to be dislodged from prepared positions on the hills surrounding the town. This was accomplished in five days. Following this, they withstood counterattacks. Then, a battalion of the 141st Infantry of the 36th Division became trapped by the enemy and became known as the “Lost Battalion.” After failure by units of the 36th Division to accomplish a rescue, the 442nd was pressed into action. On October 27 the 442nd began the operation to free the Lost Battalion. During the next four days, the 100th and 3rd Battalions were engaged in the bloodiest and fiercest fighting ever undertaken by the 442nd. The men fought from tree-to-tree, against hidden machine gun nests and tank-supported infantry. They charged through shrapnel-filled barrages of mortar and artillery fire and crossed minefields and booby traps. They never stopped in their drive to reach the entrapped battalion who had been isolated nearly a week and were low on food and ammunition. This feat is considered by the Army as one of its ten most outstanding battles. The 141st has never forgotten this and presented the 442nd a special plaque of appreciation.


Proving Their Loyalty by Their Blood

After this battle, General John E. Dahlquist of the 36th Division asked the men to be assembled so that he could thank them personally. When he saw the formation before him, he asked the commander of the 442nd, “Where are the rest of your men?” Colonel Virgil Miller choked when he replied, “You’re looking at the entire regiment--that’s all that’s left.” During its short stay in the Vosges Mountains, mid-October to mid-November, the 442nd suffered casualties of 1,086 including 161 dead. These numbers do not include the sick and non-combat injured. When the rescue was attempted, K Company had started with approximately 150 riflemen, but lost all of its officers and had 17 men left. I Company also lost all of its officers and had only eight men left. The “noncoms” took over. Other companies of the 3rd and 100th Battalions suffered similar losses.

The mission with the 36th Division was successful, but personnel and material had been severely depleted. The 100th was relieved on November 8 and sent to Southern France. The rest of the regiment followed on November 17. The 442nd guarded the French-Italian border in the Maritime Alps. They called it the “Champagne Campaign,” as R&R was included. During this assignment, the 442nd was brought back up to its regular strength with replacements and fresh supplies of material.


Returning to Italy

The Po Valley Campaign

At General Mark Clark’s personal request to General Dwight Eisenhower, the 442nd RCT, less the 522nd FA, was returned to Italy in March 1945. Their new assignment as part of the 92nd Division was to create a diversionary action on the western anchor of the Gothic Line. This sector had defied Allied assault for over five months. The enemy had had ample time to fortify their position, and the line appeared to be impregnable. Frontal assault was impossible—the enemy guns were in complete control. The solution was to conduct a surprise attack by scaling the nearly vertical mountainside. On April 5, 1945, the 442nd started their approach. During the dark hours before dawn, the men of the 442nd climbed for hours in tense silence to attain a “pincers” formation. They finally reached the top of the mountains and moved into position for attack. In the next 32 fantastic minutes, they took two key mountaintop enemy outposts. With this break in their line, the other enemy positions fell one by one. What started out as a diversionary attack by the 442nd soon developed into a major rout that destroyed the enemy’s western section. The Gothic Line that had stood for six months was finally broken!

By April 30, 1945, the 442nd had breached practically every position held by the enemy, and they were the first Allied troops to reach Turin. The 92nd Division was in complete control of the western sector and the enemy was surrendering in greater and greater numbers. Finally, on May 2, 1945, the German army in Italy surrendered. On May 8, the Third Reich formally surrendered. The Beachhead News reported, “The 442nd… never gave ground, never took a backward step.”


Above and Beyond
Honors and Awards

In less than two years, the 442nd RCT, including the 100th Infantry Battalion Separate and the 522nd FA, had successfully fought in eight major military campaigns: Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, the Rhineland, North Apennines, Central Europe and the Po Valley. Among the thousands of awards received by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were 21 Medals of Honor and eight Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations.  In addition, they received "52 Distinguished Service Crosses; 1 Distinguished Service Medal; 560 Silver Stars plus 28 Oak Leaf Clusters; 22 Legions of Merit; 15 Soldiers Medals; 4000 Bronze Stars with 1200 Oak Leaf Clusters; 9486 Purple Hearts; [...] 2 Meritorious Unit Service Plaques; 36 Army Commendations; 87 Division Commendations; 18 decorations from allied nations; and a special plaque of appreciation from the men of the ‘Lost Battalion.’” Several years after the war, Governor John Connolly of Texas issued a proclamation officially making all former members of the 442nd, “honorary Texans.” Altogether there were 18,143 individual decorations for valor, thus making the 100th and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team “the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the United States.”

Upon return to the United States in July 1946, the 442nd was honored with a parade at which time President Harry S. Truman pinned the final Distinguished Unit Citation (renamed “Presidential Unit Citation” in 1966) ribbon to the unit’s colors. The President stated, “…I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the privilege of being able to show you just how much the United States thinks of what you have done... You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice—and you won.”


Giri…sense of duty.

On…debt of gratitude.

Gamman…quiet endurance.










Oyakoko…love of the family.

Kodomo no tameni…for the sake of the children.

Shigata ga nai…it can’t be helped, resignation.

Shimbo shite seiko suru…strength grows from adversity.

Go For Broke…give it your best.


by Chester Tanaka, Tech Sgt K Company
442 Regimental Combat Team, 1943-1945

The year was 1943.  Europe was in the throes of the fourth year of war with the Third Reich of Nazi Germany, and Hitler’s domination of Europe was almost complete.  Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, North Africa and Poland were ground under the iron heel of the Nazis, and smaller or more distant countries were intimidated or eliminated.  England and Russia were under siege.  Italy, Germany’s Axis partner, bristled and chafed under Hitler’s iron collar.  The juggernaut of the greatest war machine the world had ever known was crunching inexorably toward global domination.

Standing in opposition were the Allies, the countries of the free world.  Under the overall leadership of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allies in Europe formed a triple tier of military defense: the Northern Group of Armies, the Central Group of Armies and the Southern Group of Armies, the latter commanded by Gen. Jacob L. Devers.  It was from this southern group that arose the 100 / 442, the unit that would later be called the “most decorated unit in United States military history.”

The 100th Infantry Battalion (separate) and the 442d Regimental Combat Team fought in seven campaigns in two countries, made two beachhead assaults – one by glider – and captured a submarine.  They fought the toughest troops the Nazis could throw at them – battle-wise veterans from the Afrika Korps, SS troops, Panzer brigades, and Soldaten from the Hermann Goering Division.  Joining the great combat divisions of the 5th and the 7th Armies, they hammered the enemy up the boot of Italy and back through the Vosges Forest in France.  They earned 9,486 Purple Hearts and 680 were killed in action.  They were awarded 18,143 individual decorations for bravery, including: 21 Congressional Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses; 1 Distinguished Service Medal; 588 Silver Stars; 22 Legion of Merit medals; 19 Soldier’s Medals; 5,200 Bronze Stars and 14 Croix de Guerre, among many other decorations.

Click here to view article, "The Luckiest Man: Chester Tanaka,  K Company, 442ND RCT"



Who were these men who made up the “most decorated unit in United States military history”?  Where did they come from?  What made them fight as they did?

First and foremost, they were Americans.  They were like other American GIs.

They hummed and sang snatches of “Lili Marlene” and “That Old Black Magic” when these songs came crackling through the public address system.  They ate K-rations and cursed the man who invented them.  They blasted the guys in the rear echelons who grabbed all the Lucky Strikes and Camels and left them with Chelseas and Sensations to smoke.  They drank warm beer and were happy to get it.  They took off as fast as any GI when the MPs started sweeping the Off-Limits areas.  And, of course, they bled and hurt when wounded.  They were typical, run-of-the-mill American GIs.

However, there were some differences.

They liked rice.  Three times a day.

They had strange sounding names (Akira Okamoto, Silver Star); almond eyes (Paul Okamura, Purple Heart); black hair (Hiroshi Yasutake, Distinguished Service Cross); and brown skin (Keiji Taki, Bronze Star).

They were short.  Their average height was 5’4” and their average weight was 125 pounds, even when soaking wet in the European rain, with muddy boots, loaded M1, and three grenades.

They were a quartermaster’s nightmare.  They wore shirts with 13-1/2 necks and 27” sleeves; pants with 26” waists and 25” inseams.  And then there were the shoes – would you believe 2-1/2 EEE?

These were the Japanese American (Nisei, second generation) soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442d Regimental Combat Team.  All the members of the 100 / 442 were Japanese Americans except for some of the officers.


The returning Hawaiian veterans, Americans of Jap­anese ancestry, were greeted with open arms by the entire community. In Hawaii, they were members of the dominant minority—160,000 out of a total population of 400,000. The Nisei and the Issei were employed, were visible, and received favorable media reports. During the war, newspaper reports and radio commentaries had been sympathetic to the 100/442 GI. As the war came to an end, favorable news of the exploits of the Combat Team became even more common. Also, on the Hawaiian home front, a considerable number of Japanese Ameri­cans had conspicuous opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty. They worked in civil defense, they built military installations, they bought gobs of war bonds, and they served in the Red Cross.

Although many of the mainland Japanese Ameri­cans did likewise when they could, often times it went unnoticed. They were a tiny minority—less than 1% of the mainland population. Even worse, they had been removed and unable to return to the area where their visible evidences of loyalty and devotion would have counted the most, the West Coast.

On the mainland, the Japanese Americans returning to the West Coast received a somewhat different home­coming. Night riders warned Mary Masuda—the sister of S/Sgt Kazuo Masuda, who had earned a Disting­uished Service Cross posthumously—not to return to her home. A barber in a small town just outside San Francisco refused to give a haircut to Capt Daniel Inouye, whose chest was bedecked with many decora­tions, and whose empty right sleeve gave eloquent testimony that an arm had been given in service to his coun­try. PFC Wilson Makabe, seriously wounded on patrol in the Arno River sector—losing his right leg in a mor­tar blast—called his brother from the hospital to learn that their home had mysteriously burned to the ground when they attempted to return. PFC Richard Naito, wounded and disabled, applied for membership in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post only to be turned down and told to "go join his own." These are just a few of the many incidents that happened to the vet­erans returning to the mainland. Most of these incidents occurred on the West Coast.

But now the tables began to turn, Comrades in arms from the different units that they had served with in Europe came to the rescue of the beleaguered "battalion" of Japanese Americans. Also, a large and growing number of fair-play and fair-minded Americans began to intercede on behalf of the Japanese Americans.

Col Virgil Miller, commander of the 100/442 Regi­mental Combat Team, took the VFW to task with a scathing denunciation of the local post's membership policies (re PFC Naito) and of the officers who backed them. The president of the national VFW agreed with Col Miller, censured the post and labeled their action "stupid." Today, the VFW, locally and nationally, is one of the staunchest supporters of veterans of all races and creeds.

PFC Makabe and Capt Inouye, unfortunately, re­ceived no such vindication or satisfaction.

But, in general, the veterans' faith that fair play and the democratic process would prevail proved to be pro­phetic. Within ten years, the walls of discrimination against the Japanese Americans in particular and mi­nority groups everywhere began to crumble. Down came the Alien Land Law, the Oriental Exclusion Act (barring immigration), the anti-naturalization laws, the misce­genation laws, and a teetering pile of state and muni­cipal statutes which denied the Asian American the same rights and privileges his counterpart from Europe had enjoyed for years.


The original 442nd shoulder patch was designed by the War Department and depicted a yellow arm brandishing a red sword.  The general reaction to the patch, from the Commanding Officer, Col. Pence, down to the privates, was “Ugh!”  Thanks to the efforts of T/Sgt. Mitch Miyamoto, of Watsonville, California, the 442nd came up with its own handsome patch design.  It showed a silver arm and hand holding a torch against a field of blue surrounded by a border of silver and red.  It was a positive symbol of freedom and liberty and it was proudly worn by more than 18,000 Japanese American soldiers.