The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was a unique military unit in the United States Army during the Second World War. It was unique in the sense that it was made up primarily of nisei or second-generation Japanese-Americans, a combination of Americans of Japanese descent or emigrants from Japan. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was the raison d’etre for the 442nd RCT.
In the days following the attack, the Japanese-American community took a brunt of the severe backlash as those in the mainland were forcibly relocated to internment camps in remote areas in the western United States when their loyalty was in doubt and despite the professions of loyalty among these Japanese-Americans while those on Hawaii were kept under close guard in their communities though those serving in military units such as the National Guard were dismissed (Inouye, 1967, 78; Fugita & Fernandez, 2004, 85).
Feeling their honor tarnished and being treated unfairly, the Japanese-American community lobbied very hard for a chance to prove their loyalty to the United States by military service. In 1943, recognizing the commitment and loyalty displayed by the Japanese-American community in Hawaii, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the creation of a separate military unit to be made up of these Japanese-Americans. By 1943, the 442nd RCT was created and made up primarily of Japanese-Americans from the internment camp on the mainland, including those from Hawaii.
The unit was originally made up of 4,000 men and were commanded by white officers though the some nisei were eventually given battlefield commissions. Their official motto was “Go for Broke! ” Initially this was their motivation in fighting hard but eventually, this motto had a much deeper meaning as these nisei were giving their all in fighting the enemy, not only the Axis but the racial bigotry in the United States in order to prove their worth as citizens of the United States.
Throughout their combat service, the 442nd fought mainly in the Mediterranean theater from North Africa to the Italian campaigns at Cassino and Anzio though one unit from the Regiment, the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion helped liberate Jews from the Dachau concentration camp (Fugita & Fernandez, 2004, 90).
By the time the campaign had ended, the 44nd became one of the highly decorated units for a “special” unit during the war with 21 Medals of Honor, most of which were belatedly given many years later; 7 Presidential Unit Citations (the group equivalent of the Medal of Honor for individuals) and almost 20,000 other awards and decorations, especially the Purple Heart which made up half that number due to their high casualty rate that they were called the “Purple Heart Brigade” (Sterner, 2008, 70).
Their service has somewhat vindicated their loved ones interned and helped break the racial barrier between the Japanese Americans and the whites. President Roosevelt was so impressed that that they were actually invited to the White House to call on him (Sterner, 2008, 141). As an epilogue, some of them went on to greater things such as Daniel Inouye, who went on to become a United States Senator and continues to serve to this day. In conclusion, the men of the 442nd had proven themselves to be worthy citizens of the United States and they had paid for it in blood.
They had proven that although they are oriental on the outside, they are very much American at heart. References Cooper, M. (2000). Fighting for Honor: Japanese Americans and World War II. New York: Houghton-Mifflin. Fugita, S. & Fernandez, M. (2004). Altered Lives, Enduring Community. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board. (1998). Japanese Eyes, American Heart. Honolulu: Tendai Educational Foundation. Henry, M. R. & Chapell, M. (2000). The US Army of World War II (2): The Mediterranean.
Oxford: Osprey Publications. Inouye, D. (1967). Go For Broke! In In N. J. Sparks (Ed. ) True Stories of World War II. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Salyer, L. (2004). “Baptism by Fire: Race, Military Service, and US Citizenship Policy, 1918-1935. ” The Journal of American History 91 (3). 847-876. Sterner, C. D. (2008). Go For Broke. Clearfield, Utah: American Legacy Media. Tateishi, J (1984). And Justice for All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps. New York: Random House.