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WWII Japanese American Military Service

Fold3 Image - Nisei army interpreter talks with Japanese family
Did you know that roughly 30,000 Japanese Americans served with the U.S. military during World War II? Many of them served with the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated unit relative to size and service length in U.S. military history.

The predecessor of the 442nd was the 100th Infantry Battalion, formed in 1942 predominantly from Japanese Americans serving in the Hawaiian National Guard. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government was leery of allowing Japanese Americans to serve in the military, but the 100th helped pave the way for government approval of the formation of the Japanese American 442nd in 1943. The two groups were combined in June 1944. Also attached to the 442nd were the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion and the 232nd Engineer Company, as well as an anti-tank company, a medical detachment, and even the 206th Army Band.

The men in the 442nd/100th were known for their bravery and skill, and they fought in various European campaigns, particularly in Italy and France. The group had a high casualty rate and was highly decorated, with members receiving 18,143 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses. Twenty-one eventually received the Medal of Honor.

Beyond the 442nd/100th, a few Japanese Americans who had been inducted into the army prior to Pearl Harbor served in integrated units. Thousands of other Japanese Americans joined the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) as translators and interpreters and served mainly in the Pacific. A few dozen Japanese American women also served in the MIS, and hundreds more joined the Women’s Army Corps and the Cadet Nurse Corps.

You can find many interesting documents related to Japanese American military service in World War II on Fold3. Below are a few examples:

Find more records about Japanese Americans’ role in the military during WWII by searching or browsing on Fold3.

22 Comments

  1. As an American, and a retired Marine, I am proud of these Ameicans who served their country. I am of German heritage and many of my ancestors fought in Europe against the Axis Powers. My ancestors migrated from Russia, east of the city of Sorotov on the Volga, to the plains of Kansas and I remember how proud they were to serve the United States on the battlefield. They came here to be Americans. It is so sad to see MIddle Easterns, Islamics, come here with the intent to implement sharia law and subvert the laws of this land. If they cannot live under our laws and Christian Ideals, they should stay in the Middle East clean up the mess they created. For them it is all about living off the largess, as they see it, provided under our “politically correct” Leaders. I admire what these Japanese did for us and for themselves.

    • Many of the Japanese Americans (including my wife’s family — my direct family goes back to 1641 Puritan colonists) maintained their Buddhist traditions, and did not have to adopt Christianity to prove their worth as citizens. Some were “No-No Boys” because, as citizens, they objected to having to take a loyalty oath because of their ethnicity. Documents archived by the Library of Congress and eventually re-discovered during the Reagan administration proved that the relocation order was mainly a racist land-grab. And reparations were paid. The Middle East mess has been an on-going creation of British and American multi-national oil interests disguised in part as “guilt reparation” for the Holocaust, and holding back the Red Menace. Every regime and regime change and insurgency in that part of the world has been roiled up by neo-conservative diplomatic meddling (war is failed diplomacy, after all.) Our (American citizens’) pay-back has been decades of wasted blood and treasure, in both Republican and Democrat administrations AND Congresses. Don’t wrap yourself in the flag to support corruption, Mr. Leiker.

    • You Americans are discovering a problem we, Western Europeans have been confronted to since the 1960. Decolonisation of countries with a mainly moslim population brought many muslims to France, Britain and the Netherlands. Some also came to Belgium. Many of them had served the colonial power well and were afraid of reprisals from the new leaders. Facing a shortage of manpower, the Germans opened their country mainly to Turks as basic working forces more or less on the same time.

      Most of them were decent people, willing to work and to integrate, quite similar to those you describe as the immigrants who went to the US to become real Americans. They nevertheless kept their islamic religion, but they didn’t cause any trouble in that time.

      Incredibly, the trouble started mainly with muslims born in Europe and seriously increased during the latest 20 years. These people have always enjoyed a quite confortable Westen life, where one presently, including generations long westerners, have a tendency to complain on averything and never consider their duties. They are often more open to all the islamic extremist propaganda than their fathers or grandfathers, who know how bad it used to be and still is in their countries of origin.

      Still I found good people among them. As an Army officer for more than 30 years, I saw some of them becoming outstanding soldiers, which I could thrust. Some became good friends and I was glad to have them by my side in the Balkans, in Africa or even in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, others turned out as troublemakers and we had to kick them out of the service.

      Some of my friends still in the service even suspect some of them now just come to get some combat training before they show their real intentions. And visibly, their number increases. I strongly recommend to you Americans, not to focus on immigrants as the potential enemy, but to be very careful with your second and third generation muslims. The latest massacre in Orlando a few days ago seems to confirm my fears.

      As a Belgian officer, I worked very often with the US forces and, while staying in the US, I noticed a stong tendency among Americans to disthrust everything coming from outside the US and not enough looking inside their own country for causes of trouble. Be very careful with such a state of mind, for you might look for the enemy on the wrong place. Some of our European politicians have the same tendency.

    • Well stated. Another proud American.

    • Thanks for this information; it’s great that We learn about these important Historical viewpoints, which I just don’t believe ever got into print before!?! (Dana) 1:55AM
      3–24-20167

  2. My Father served in the 31st Infantry in the Philippines prior to WW2 .
    He was captured on Bataan on April 9th & endured 3-1/2 years of Japanese prison camps, finally 30 miles from the first Atomic Bomb when it dropped on Hiroshima .
    The Japanese that served with the US were honorable, the Japanese Empire was not Honorable , in fact very disgraced for all time.

    • Robert Coats,

      I’m working on a book on Bataan. Is you father still living? I’d like to interview him. If he’s not, do you have any letters, photos documents relating to his time in the Philippines? Thanks. Tom@tomgraves.com

  3. There were many Japanese-Americans in the California National Guard before the war. My father, who was in the 159th Infantry on Pearl Harbor Day, told me all the Asians (including Chinese-Americans) were separated from the unit that day. The Japanese-American Guard (who were volunteers, not draftees), were initially assigned to non-combat duty. Later in the war, they did see combat. My father went to OCS and ended up commanding Co. I of the 114th Infantry, 44th Division in Europe. One of his HQ runners was a Japanese American. In addition, a large number of Nisei served in the Pacific in MIS. One of my former colleagues, Ben Hazard, commanded a three-man tactical translation team that served on Saipan and Okinawa. The frontline Japanese-Americans saved many American lives through translation of captured documents and interrogation of prisoners.

  4. My Uncle, Charles A. Brenaman, a Lt Col. in the Territory of Hawaii National Guard took all the Hilo and Big Island 100th Battalion boys off to Wisconsin to train them for the start their journey to Italy and France in WWII. One could never mention the 442nd to him…he was a fiercely proud 100th battalion man until the day he died…

  5. My Uncle Carol Shuck’s best army buddy in World WarII was a Japanese-American, Tashee Sigimoto who was from California, I believe. He was married and had a little daughter. His parents and family had to go to a interrment camp in Wyoming. My mother corresponded with them all of the time. Nice people.

  6. My foster cousin,Capt. Robert Hempstead served in the unit. Was KIA in Italy. Is buried in Atlanta.

  7. The Americans of Japanese decent have a right to be proud of both the 100th and the 442nd. They did their duty with great gallantry and valor. They also never asked Americans for special consideration or to become Japanese. They were free to practice their religion and keep their heritage. They maintained their own lifestyle and lived alongside Americans of many religions, melting together as Americans have always done. Not so today’s immigrants and their Politically Correct lap-dogs in Washington, who want to change us all to their way of life.

  8. I had a Japanese Best-Friend, named: George T., who made A/1C while in the 7th Communications Squadron, (1952-1953), in Taegu, Korea, (USAF) during that War! He was from Hawaii, & witnessed the Dec. 7th, 1941 Bombing of Pearl Harbor, while sitting in an Outhouse, which just happened to be very high on a hill, thus he came eye-ball to eye-ball with the Japanese pilot, as it flew passed George, who about 9 years old at the time! He told me that He will Never forget that Day, Ever, (seeing the pilot’s eyes clearly, even though he had his goggles on)!!! (Mr. Dana R. Daffin) danadaffin60@gmail.com 5:28AM 6-17-2016!

  9. My German grandfather came to the USA at age 14 in 1884 and when he got here and found the rest of his family in Kansas. He made the decision that hecwas American and he never to my knowledge ever spoke German again. There was a time we tried to get him to translate a letter in 1954, I think.
    Both of my grandfathers died in 1956. I think thdy both would be very proud that I volunteered to serve in Vietnam in 1966. 22nd Tactical Air Support Squadron, TASS.

  10. While I was stationed at Carswell AFB TX, my Sqdn First Sgt. asked me to type out his War Crimes Complaint against Japan in late 1952 to early in 1953. He had been stationed at Clark Field but had retreated to Bataan and after his unit was surrenderd, was on the Bataan Death March. He told of the murder of young Phillopino children who tried to give the American POWs water and the subsequent tossing the bodies of the children and the mothers into the village well by the Japanese troops. He also described his being tied to the top deck of a rubber carrying freighter to prevent the ship from being attacked by the US submarines. He was mistreated before the shipping, then when he arrived in Japan, he was assigned to work 12 hours per day in a steel mill until the cable holding the molten iron ladle broke after which he was almost shot until the broken cable was thought to not have been his doing. However, he was then assigned still with his summer clothing to work on the railroad in Manchuria and North Korea where he lost some of his toes to frostbite.

    After he submitted his legally submitted claim, OUR US State Dept. killed his claim by saying that he had already been paid for his service, and the US State Dept. did not want to do any harm to our new ally Japan which had recently (1952) signed the new peace treaty with the USA. He got no satisfaction, money, or even an apology from the Japanese Govt. for the criminal acts of its army. Did you know that Japan beheaded the pilots of Dolittle’s Raiders who were captured? They did spare the crewmen. The criminal scientist/doctor who experimented on captured US and Chinese POWs was never punished for his acts which made the German Doctors acts seem tame. Why was this mass killer allowed to go unpunished? He offered to share his resultant findings with the USA! We accepted the offer! What civilian was ever told of these actions? I knew of none then.

  11. Yes, and when they came home, a few became Ha Leg members. One of the best things done was that if one was in a military group, even Reserve, they were allowed to attend the U of H for free, except books.
    Stafford-Ames Morse

  12. My Caucasian sister is married to a Japanese man who was born in the Tule Lake internment camp. He was told there was a fire that destroyed all of the birth records. Does anybody know anything about this?

  13. MY Dad was in the 3rd ID and my uncle was on the battle ship Missouri 3rd ID leads the way to hell and back GOD BLESS

  14. HAPPY FATHERS DAY

    • Happy Fathers Day to my dad Hideo. He was a medic with the 442nd and earned a Purple Heart as well a Silver Star for bravery. The 442nd and all of the US patriots are forever part of The Greatest Generation.

  15. What interesting Messages; I’ve enjoyed all of them, which enabled Me to respond at least a couple of times…& honored to do So!!! (Mr. Dana R. Daffin) danadaffin60@gmail.com 2:04AM 6-24-2016

  16. I SERVED IN THE US ARMY 1956-1959 BUT DID NOT SEE ANY ACTION
    I HAD MANY FRIENDS WHO WERE JAPANESE/AMERICANS. SOME OF WHOM
    I WOULD TRUST WITH MY LIFE. OTHERS (WHITES) I WOULDN’T TRUST
    AS FAR AS I COULD THROW THEM. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH
    A PERSON’S ANCESTRY AS THEY HAD NO CHOICE OF IT. MY VIEWPOINT
    IS HOW I AM TREATED BY THEM.