During World War II, when Japan was the enemy, and the United States just happened to have a Japanese population of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. The government decided to place these people in internment camps, mainly because they were not sure of their loyalty. Sixty-two percent of the internees were United States citizens, but somehow that didn’t matter. The American people and the government were afraid of them. Maybe it made no sense, but there it was.
While their families were interned in camps at home, a group of Japanese-Americans, were serving their country as members of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Infantry Regiment. The 100th Infantry Battalion was composed mainly of Nisei…the American born children of Japanese immigrants. They were fighting for the allies on the Western Front of World War II. While the American people did not trust the Japanese immigrants or their children, this unit, out of all units of comparable size and length of service, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) is, to this day, the most decorated unit in American military history.
Most of the men in the 100th Infantry Battalion were former Nisei members from the Hawaii National Guard. These brave men fought to capture the fortress of Monte Cassino in Italy. It was in this battle that the 100th Infantry Battalion first earned the nickname “Purple Heart Battalion.” The battle to capture the fortress of Monte Cassino was an important stage in the offensive to liberate Rome from Axis leaders. The 100th Infantry Battalion later became incorporated into the 442nd RCT, which drew most of its forces from mainland Nisei volunteers, after the regiment arrived in Europe.
During the war, one battle stood out…at least in my mind. It was one that proves without a doubt, the extreme loyalty and courage of this unit. Among their other military accomplishments, the 442nd RCT was instrumental in the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.” In a daring last-ditch effort, members of the 442nd RCT were ordered to rescue a battalion of Texans surrounded by German troops in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France. Although the Nisei knew that they would suffer heavy casualties, many saw the mission as a chance to prove their loyalty. The regiment was also critical in the breach of the Gothic Line. Embedded within the Apennine Mountains, it was Germany’s last major line of defense in the Italian Campaign. Later, members of the regiment were present at the liberation of the infamous Dachau concentration camp in Germany. For some of the soldiers, the experience was a bittersweet one; although they were able to emancipate the prisoners of the camp, they could not help but remember their detained families at home.