On January 28, 1943, the US War Department called for volunteers for a new combat team. The mainland quota was 3,000 and the Hawaiʻi quota was 1,500.
But wait, we are getting a little ahead of the story. Let’s look back.
On December 7, 1941, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor forced the US into World War II. On the day of the bombing and for six weeks after, the Nisei (Hawaiʻi born, 2nd generation Japanese in Hawaiʻi) and other cadets in the University of Hawaiʻi’s ROTC were made part of the Hawaiʻi Territorial Guard and assisted in guarding vital facilities on the island of Oahu. They served as part of the armed forces defense of the islands for a 7-week period.
However, on January 19, 1942, the Army discharged all the Japanese Americans in the ROTC – and changed their draft status to 4C … “enemy alien.” Wanting to serve, one hundred and seventy students petitioned the military governor: “Hawaiʻi is our home; the United States our country. We know but one loyalty and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans in every way possible, and we hereby offer ourselves for whatever service you may see fit to use us.” (hawaii-edu)
A year later, the War Department announced that it was forming an all-Nisei combat team – the call for volunteers for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was made. The Territory of Hawaiʻi raised a total of 10,000-volunteers and so its quota was increased to 2,900 while the mainland quota was lowered proportionately to 1,500.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was activated on February 1, 1943 at Camp Shelby Mississippi; the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce held a Farewell Ceremony for Hawaiʻi 442nd soldiers on March 28, 1943, at ʻIolani Palace. By April 1943, the recruits arrived for training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
The Hawaiʻi-born Nisei, also known as “Buddhaheads,” made up about two-thirds of the regiment. The remaining third were Nisei from the mainland (they came from the Pacific coast, the Rocky Mountain states, the midwest and the eastern seaboard.) Immediately, the two factions fought with each other (because of different perspectives based on where they grew up.) (goforbroke-org)
At the time, Japanese in the US were placed in internment camps; more than 110,000-people of Japanese ancestry (including 60-percent who were American citizens) were forcibly “relocated” from their homes, businesses and farms in the western states (about 1,000 were interned in Hawaiʻi.)
Back at the training camp, the Buddhaheads thought the mainlander Nisei were sullen and snobby, and not confident and friendly. Soon misunderstandings turned into fistfights. In fact, that was how mainlanders got the name “Katonk.” (They say it was the sound their heads made when they hit the floor.)
The Katonks were fairer skinned, and spoke perfect English. The Buddhaheads were darker skinned and spoke Pidgin – a mixture of Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese and broken English. (goforbroke-org)
Money was another big divider between the groups. The Buddhaheads gambled heavily and spent freely using the cash sent by their generous parents who still worked in Hawaiʻi. They thought the Katonks were cheap. They didn’t realize that the Katonks sent most of their meager Army pay to their families imprisoned in the camps. (goforbroke-org)
The friction between the two groups was so bad that the military high command considered disbanding the 442nd. They thought the men could never fight overseas as a unit. The Army decided to send a group of Buddhaheads to visit the internment camps in Arkansas (the men thought Camp Jerome and Camp Rowher were little towns with Japanese families.)
But when the trucks rolled past the barbed wire fence, past the guard towers armed with machine guns pointed at the camp residents, past the rough barracks where whole families crowded in small compartments with no privacy – suddenly the Buddhaheads understood. Word of the camps spread quickly, and the Buddhaheads gained a whole new respect for the Katonks. Immediately the men in the 442nd became united – “like a clenched fist.”
From May 1943 through February 1944, the men trained for combat; they excelled at maneuvers and learned to operate as a team. In March, Chief of Staff General George Marshall inspected the regiment. Following their training, on April 22, 1944, the 442d packed up and were bound for Italy.
The motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was “Go For Broke.” (It’s a gambling term that means risking everything on one great effort to win big.)
The soldiers of the 442nd needed to win big … they did.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the entire history of the US Military.
In total, about 14,000-men served. Members of this unit earned over 18,000-individual decorations including 9,486 Purple Hearts and 5,200 Bronze Stars. The Combat Team earned five Presidential Citations, the only military unit ever to claim that achievement.
General of the Army George C Marshall praised the team saying, “there were superb: the men of the 100/442d … showed rare courage and tremendous fighting spirit … everybody wanted them.” General Mark W. Clark (Fifth Army) said, “these are some the best … fighters in the US Army. If you have more, send them over.” (army-mil)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote, “a combat team … of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent has my full approval, (and) will add to the … 5,000 … already serving in the … (100th Infantry Battalion, and Military Intelligence Service) … Americanism is not … a matter of race or ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy.”
The 442d may be best known for its rescue of the Lost Texas Battalion of the 36th Infantry Division, in the forests of the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France, near Biffontaine and Bruyeres on October 30, 1944.
The 442nd and the 141st Texas Regiment were both part of the 36th Division under the command of Major General John Dahlquist. They were fighting in Eastern France, near the German border. The 141st Texas Regiment advanced four miles beyond friendly forces – the Germans surrounded them. More than 200 Texans were stranded on a ridge, they were low on food, water and ammo.
Isolated for six days, the Texans had beaten back five enemy assaults. Deaths and casualties mounted. During the six days, the 442nd fought to rescue the Lost Battalion. After 34 days of almost non-stop combat – liberating Bruyeres and Biffontaine, rescuing the 211 Texans, and nine more days of driving the Germans through the forest – the 442nd’s total casualties were 216 men dead and more than 856 wounded.
As part of the Allies’ Southern Group of Armies, the 100/442d fought in eight campaigns and made two beachhead assaults in Italy and France, captured a submarine and opened the gates of Dachau concentration camp.
It is ironic that this team liberated Dachau, because some of these Japanese Americans were detained in American camps before being drafted into service, and still had family in those US camps. Nisei were denied their property, freedom to move, live in their own homes, work, and learn in the western US. (army-mil)
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team included the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, 206th Army Ground Force Band, Antitank Company, Cannon Company, Service Company, medical detachment, headquarters companies, and two infantry battalions. The 1st Infantry Battalion remained on the mainland to train new recruits. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions would join the legendary 100th Battalion, which was already fighting in Italy.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was actually composed of two distinct units: the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. These two units were formed independently at different times and do not share a common lineage. The 100th Battalion would eventually become the 442nd’s 1st battalion in June 1944. (the442-org)
Some quotes about the members of the 442:
“You not only fought the enemy … you fought prejudice and won.” President Harry S Truman
“Never in military history did an army know as much about the enemy prior to actual engagement” General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Pacific Theater
“My fellow Americans, we gather here today to right a grave wrong … now let me sign HR 442.” President Ronald Reagan, Civil Liberties Act of 1988
“The Nisei saved countless lives and shortened the war by two years.” Charles A Willoughby, General MacArthur’s Intelligence Officer
Soldiers wear a wide assortment of insignia, ribbons, medals, badges, tabs and patches. The distinctive unit insignia for the 442d Infantry Regiment, Organized Reserves Corps (Hawaiʻi) was originally approved on May 22, 1952. It was amended to withdraw “Organized Reserves Corps” from the designation on June 30, 1959. (Pentagon-mil)
The 442d’s insignia is blue and white, the colors for the Infantry. The taro leaf, from the coat of arms of the 100th Infantry Battalion, is identified with Hawaiʻi, and the Mississippi River steam boat symbolizes the place of activation of the 442d Infantry Regiment (Camp Shelby, Mississippi.) (Pentagon-mil). (Lots of information here from 442-org, goforbroke-org and army-mil.)
The image shows the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce Farewell Ceremony for Hawaiʻi 442d soldiers, March 28, 1943 at ʻIolani Palace. In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.