February 1, 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. On January 22, 1943, the War Department authorized the activation of the Japanese American Regimental Combat Team. It was to be composed of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 232nd Engineer Combat Company.
The officers and cadre of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were assembled at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The regiment, along with the 100th Infantry Battalion, became the most decorated U.S. Army unit for its size and length of service in the entire history of the Army. Its history was unsurpassed. The unit was composed of company-grade officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted men of Japanese American ancestry.
On the founding of the 442nd, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote:
“The proposal of the War Department to organize a combat team consisting of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent has my full approval. No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry. The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, 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. Every loyal American citizen should be given an opportunity to serve this country wherever his skills will make the greatest contribution—whether it be in the ranks of our armed forces, war production, agriculture, government service, or other work essential to the war effort.”
Among the many ironies of this story is that the War Department that authorized the creation of the 442nd RCT was the very same government agency that called for the imprisonment of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. That same War Department and government classified young Nisei men as “4C, Enemy Alien,” unavailable for the draft. The parents of the young Nisei were deprived of most of the rights and privileges afforded other American immigrants. This generation, the Issei, could not own land, vote, or become citizens.
Yet the Nisei fought with a determination to prove their loyalty and to improve the futures of their unborn children and grandchildren.
Today, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the beginning of that fight for justice.
When the Nisei returned home, they helped to abolish the discriminatory laws against the Japanese American community. Perhaps their proudest moment was when they witnessed their parents being naturalized and sworn in as American citizens.
Seventy-five years later, we celebrate the fact that the United States government apologized to the Japanese American community for the wartime imprisonment by passing House Resolution 442, named after the regiment (Civil Liberties Act of 1988). This was the only time that the United States government apologized for violating the rights of its citizens and paid reparations.
We celebrate the fact that Hawaii became a state in 1959. This was due, in part, to the record of the Nisei soldiers.
We celebrate the fact that the Smithsonian Institution opened an acclaimed exhibit, entitled “A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the Constitution,” which opened on September 17, 1987, on the 200th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. constitution.
We celebrate the fact that the United States Congress honored all Nisei veterans of World War II on October 8, 2010, with a gold medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
We celebrate the fact that there are museums and archives dedicated to preserving the memory of the Nisei soldiers all over the United States, including Honolulu, Maui, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and others.
I hope you join with me in remembering the more than 30,000 Nisei men who fought in World War II, and the more than 700 who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
I am enclosing, below, the dedication to the book, Go For Broke, by 442nd K Company veteran Chester Tanaka. The dedication was written by Chaplain George Aki of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Lest we forget.
-A message from Eric Saul, Historian, Museum Director
“We … offer our unending thanks to those who gave their all and to the loved ones they left behind. We pay homage to those who made the numbers “100” and “442” meaningful and sacred with their lives. We are inspired once again by their battle cry for life, “Go for Broke”! And they achieved this in a time of utter uncertainty, frustration, and degradation. Through this dark chaos, each of them took the giant step forward and upward, giving new meaning to liberty, justice, and human rights. And, in the course of their giving and serving, they died before they could see and taste the fruits of their sacrificial labors. They were mostly young men who had their future before them. They were ordinary youths wanting to live, but they became “extraordinary” as they dared to choose to come forth from the concentration camps to fight for the land that had incarcerated them and their families. And they became heroes because they dared to take that first step to become “equals” with others in American society. They stood apart and were not dismayed or dissuaded by forces that weighed against them.
“And we know that they sincerely desired to return home when their work was done. But they died, not in their homeland in beds of comfort, but alone, in agony, in a strange land…ignorant of the legacy that their passing would create.
“Somewhere deep inside each of them they must have known that “it is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed” than to “succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.” They attained the stature of giants as they fought and secured human rights, justice, and equality not only for themselves and their families but for all who were oppressed.
“It is in memory and homage to these gallant officers and men of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that this book is dedicated.”
-Captain (Chaplain) George Aki, 100/442d Regimental Combat Team