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They Fought for the Country that Detained Their Families: Japanese American Soldiers in WWII

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is a WWII U.S. Army regiment composed almost entirely of second-generation Japanese Americans, known as Nisei, who answered the call to serve. They fought in Italy and France and were described by more than one commander as, “The finest assault troops he’d ever led.” They volunteered at a time when many Japanese American families lived in internment camps. Some members of the 442nd were serving in the Hawaii National Guard when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The government made them turn their weapons in, but as the war progressed, the War Department permitted them to bear arms in defense of their country. We’ve recently added the Unit History for the 442nd, which consists of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 232nd Combat Engineer Company. Later the 100th Infantry Battalion joined with the 442nd.

This Unit History is part of Fold3’s growing collection of Unit Histories, many of which are donated by our users. We can digitize any Unit History or military yearbook and return the original undamaged book to the donor. Fold3 is dedicated to preserving and sharing Unit Histories and make them available for anyone to view free of charge.

After the 442nd was organized, they reported to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for training. Later they headed to the European Theater. In June 1944, the 100th Infantry Battalion met up with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, both having fought through Italy.

Sadao S. Munemori

Among the heroic soldiers in this unit was Sadao S. Munemori. He was born to Japanese immigrants. Just a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sadao joined the U.S. Army and was in an Army training center when his family was forced out of their home and to an inland internment camp. Sadao was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and sent to Anzio as one of the first group of replacements for the 100th Infantry Battalion, who had already been in combat for nine months.

After Rome fell to Allied hands in June 1944, the 100th and 442nd shifted to France, where they played a heroic role in the forests above Bruyeres. Later, they returned to Italy with a new objective, to break through the Gothic Line. The Gothic Line was a defensive barrier in the northern Apennines mountain range. The 100/442 scaled the mountains and sent a massive artillery barrage down on German forces. The enemy returned fire relentlessly. At one point, Sadao and several other soldiers dove into a shell crater for protection and to avoid heavy fire. Noticing two machine-gun nests, Sadao decided to try and eliminate them. He crawled from the hole and attacked the machine-gun nests with hand grenades, knocking them both out. While crawling back to safety, a live grenade bounced off his helmet and fell into the hole. Knowing there wasn’t time to throw the grenade out, Sadao threw his body over it and absorbed the impact as it exploded. Sadao died instantly, but his comrades survived. Sadao Munemori became the only Japanese American to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the war (other Japanese Americans received the medal long after the war ended.)

To learn more about these heroic Nisei soldiers, search the Unit History of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. If you have a Unit History or a military yearbook that you are willing to share, please contact us at [email protected]. We’ll make arrangements to digitize your book and return it safely and undamaged to you. Others will then be able to view that Unit History or yearbook for free. See more Unit Histories at Fold3 today.


  1. Curtis says:

    Let’s not forget the United States imprisoned 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry during WW 11 of which many were born in America. America sent those 120,000 to concentration camps in our country, mainly in the western and central part of their (our) country.

  2. James Kerwin says:

    I was a boy of 9 or 10 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. We heard about it at about 1 pm that Sunday on a Sunday trip to Boston. Later when we hear the Japanese were being herded in to detention camps we were thrilled. Most of us kids thought within weeks we’d be prisoners of the Japanese. We saw how they killed babies and murdered civilians. How could we trust any Japanese.
    As an adult American I’m disgusted that the USA did that to ANY American. The taking and selling of their property was more than any group should endure. How could, or did, any Japanese recover from the destruction of their property and businesses—now that’s a story never told and should be told. What happened to all those displaced –just because they were Japanese.
    I am honored as a vet of the Korean war by the actions of japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat team. If I ever serve again, let me be with THEM. I consider myself a true red, white,blue American but question if I would have had their courage. God bless them and thank them for helping to save our country from the NAZI.

    • Susan Schmerling says:

      “How could, or did, any Japanese recover from the destruction of their property and businesses—now that’s a story never told and should be told.” The Japanese-American actor George Takei, most widely known for his role as Sulu in Star Trek, has spoken and written extensively about his and his family’s experiences when he was a young child; they lost all their possessions and were forced to live in two concentration (“internment”) camps. I highly recommend the detailed Wikipedia article about him (, which is very interesting and informative.

    • Genia Means says:

      you must not have read your history on Jackson’s horrific treatment of the Native Americans to kick them out of their homes and herded them into cow pens and then forced to march across the Trail of Tears.

    • Fred Staff says:

      Words well spoken! It would have to be the greatest test of your life to see all you had taken from you and still offer to give up your life for the one taking it.


  3. Great story and one I did not know. My father served in the Sea Bees in the Philippines during WWII. Is there a corresponding story for the Chinese Americans who served in WWII? Always enjoy your stories and may we never forget the Greatest Generation.

  4. Arthur Rathburn says:

    I had the privilege of writing the biography of Akira Toki of the 100th. The book is called THE AMERICAN JAPANESE.

  5. About six or seven years ago, while I was shopping at a nearby Home Depot in San Carlos California, I noticed a wiry older fellow with a 442nd baseball cap sitting by the exit in a wheelchair. He seemed to be the right age so I asked if I could shake his would be my honor. He seemed surprised and asked why and I told him, most servicemen know of the 442nd and greatly honor them. We started talking, he had a great sense of humor and told me he flies over from Hawaii every six months to perform maintenance on his daughters home. He said it was good that I caught him at this trip since he was the last living 442nd recipient of the MOH. He asked me if I had been injured while in the service and I told him, only in an auto accident. He then asked me if I was getting any disability payments and I told him no; I had too many combat wounded friends and a relative and I thought it would dishonor them if I collected money for a mere accident. He became a bit upset and told me, “you served, you are entitled” and made me promise to apply for benefits. We parted friends and I thought…he is a disabled man in a wheelchair and is still thinking and acting for others…..incredible!!!

  6. Dr. Dimanche Y. Tubman says:

    Wow – first of all many thanks to our Japanese American Soldiers who fought in WWII. I salute you and all veterans as well as active duty service members. Our WWII veterans have risked their lives during a time when very few people were willing to give their lives for this country that has contributed to the direct result of the freedom that we have now. I have nothing but love and respect for all of you. Additionally, I am a parent of an active duty service member. My knees are sore because I am constantly on my knees praying for my child and all veterans and active duties Service members of the United States of America. I pray that God continues to guard and protect every single one of our Veterans and Service members. Thank you for your services, I love and respect each and every single one of you, and I love this country, the great United States of America (USA). God bless you and the USA. Please take care and stay safe from COVID-19.

  7. Anna says:

    So glad you finally added this. Keep up the good work and thank you.

  8. My brother in law, Captain Maurice E. Williams, trained with the unit in Shelby, Mississippi and went through Anzio, and Italy and France with the unit. He said he never was with braver men than these Nisei guys. He maintained contacts and reunioned with them on many occasions . Maurice is gone now as are most of them, but they left a memory that will last through the ages. Thank you for the remembrance and may their souls Rest In Peace for their loyalty to the USA.

  9. Joseph Benavides says:

    In 1970, I was just discharged from the USMC, seeing one tour as a combat disabled Vietnam Veteran-1968. Mr. Sus Kitani Branch Manager of American Optical saw this kid with no experience, and, with family . Despite HR not wanting to hire me, Mr. Kitani took a chance and personally taught me all the ropes of what was my first real civilian job. I would sit with him for hours listening in awe to his combat experiences in the 442nd and how he had to overcome racism and how I must understand, if we love this country we must put our hatred and anger aside. Mr. Kitani, from my heart, I thank you, for your kindness and love for your fellow human being. You are my mentor of work and life. You are forever in my heart.
    Joseph Benavides

  10. Rodney Chorlton says:

    Watched the story on them on YouTube. It was great.

  11. While we constantly hear how unfair America is how come no one reports that Japan did the same to Americans living in Japan. Yes there were some and they were in custody. Always make out Americans sooooo bad.

  12. Theron P Snell says:

    Thank you for this post. In this time of fear -of-immigrants and people of color, we need to understand the reality. We resisted allowing Jews and anti-Nazi refugees into the country during this same period (a shameful record) and yet many of those who did make it served in the US Armed Forces, including the OSS.

    We UST learn to move beyond our fear of ‘the other.’

  13. mike reitsma says:

    Thank you Fold3 for this article. The allegiance of the soldiers of the 442nd to the country that they grew up in reveals one of the things that once made America a great nation. We need to remember that brave, selfless commitment to restore some of that greatness.

  14. William C. Rice says:

    Go for Broke!

  15. Ali says:

    Remarkable story, thank you

  16. Fred Saunders says:

    I visited the internment camp in California, nestled in the foot of the Sierra mountains. I came away ashamed of how these Americans were treated because of race and unfounded fears.
    Yet, we had Americans who where of German and Italian decent that did not experience the same treatment, nor should they been. My German grandfather and grandmother were safe and secure, farmed and spoke German through the war. What was the difference; skin color, customs and unfounded fears?

    Thanks to those brave soldiers of Japanese decent who were true Americans.

  17. Bradley Wishard says:

    I remember as a kid watching a movie on the 442nd. I thought these guys were so heroic, but yet so emotional for love of family and country. Let us never forget that because we may sometimes look different, talk different, and act different, we will die for our family and country!

  18. yes and while that was going on the japs were slaughtering americian soilders , and starving imprisoned u.s citizens

  19. Joy Garws says:

    Sheila b B Cheeks, We too often view the past as Monday morning quarterbacks. Also we see history through the lens of today’s society. I recognize that this was horrible for the Japanese who were interred, but I grew up during WWII and I know the fear people had that some of the Japanese might still have allegiance to Japan and we were afraid of sabotage. As the article says, most were 1st or 2nd generation immigrants. (Who knows, perhaps there would have been some that was averted by the interment.) That they would still fight for their country, and show such bravery and dedication in doing so is truly to be honored. As for the Jews, as far as I am aware, that was purely bias. But it wasn’t only the United States, that ship load of Jewish refugees that we would not allow in had also been turned away by numerous other countries. That’s part of what made it so terrible. They had no where else to go. I agree with you that too many Americans are too quick to disparage our country without putting things in the proper context.

    • Trisha A Lindsey says:

      Fear. It’s amazing how the most unconscionable acts and atrocities are perpetrated due to fear, then after that unfounded fear is found of no consequence, everyone is supposed to move on. Fear should be confronted with truth. It’s an irrational thought used to destroy someone’s conscience so they are malleable to commit anything they must to rid themselves of it, and that never happens entirely. Guilt comes but quickly is dampened down lest one consider the fault is their own cowardice that leads them to act in fear. Get over it. It does not justify wrong behavior at the end of the day.

  20. Robert L. Kuyper says:

    In California, I knew Jake Kirihara, who was part of the 442 in Europe. He was part of a machine gun squad, carrying 80 lbs of ammunition. He told me he did not do anything, but I responded, “What good would the gun be without the ammunition!” They carried all that up the other side of the pass in Northern Italy to defeat the Germans who were blocking the pass and the advance of Allied Troops. I presided at his funeral, and I’m honored to have known him. He came back to Livingston, CA, where he farmed until he died.

  21. Amazing how a lot of people look at history through a modern day lens. Maybe had you lived during this time you would agree with the decisions made. The Japanese and axis powers did horrible things to our service members and citizens caught in their areas when the war started.
    A lot of people think using the A bomb to end the war was soooo Terible NOW, but if you had a family member getting ready to enter Japan and fight an enemy willing to die to the last you would not think it was bad.
    You can’t look back at history and apply today’s ideology.

    • Trisha A Lindsey says:

      And yet you’ve had to pay reparations to US citizens of Japanese descent that were falsely imprisoned due to hysteria and racism? The US is no white knight and faultless, to think nuclear powers use at any time is acceptable against a civilian populace is unconscionable. The measure of payment for that hasn’t been realized yet, I pray I’m not here and we are excluded when the bill comes due for all the past and continued atrocities white America has and still is perpetrating on people of color since before it inception to present day.