100th battalion

‘American Samurai’

Two color guards and color bearers of the Japanese-American 100th Battalion, 442d Combat Team, stand at attention, while their citations are read. They are standing on ground in the Bruyères area, France, where many of their comrades fell. November 12 1944
(Bruyères is a commune in the Vosges department in Lorraine in northeastern France)

Through a series of costly battles—first in Italy, then in France—the 442nd Regimental Combat Team would become the most highly decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. Army, receiving an unprecedented 8 Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, and 9,486 Purple Hearts.

The 4,000 men of the team who first went into action in 1943 had to be replaced three and a half times to make up for those who were killed, wounded, and missing in action. They helped win Japanese Americans’ personal battle as well, proving that their loyalty to the United States was beyond question. On July 15, 1946, the survivors of the 442nd marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., becoming the first military unit returning from the war to be reviewed by President Harry S. Truman. “You fought not only the enemy,” President Truman told them that day, “you fought prejudice, and you have won.”

(Photo source - US Signal Corps SC196716)

(Colorized by Jared Enos from the USA)

I went to the Hawaii Japanese Cultural Center yesterday for my Japanese American ethnic studies class. During the tour, there was a portion where we watched a video about Japanese Americans during WWII, which included stories from veterans who served in the 100th/442nd.

This is a picture of a mini memorial in the showroom dedicated to the Japanese Americans who were KIA or MIA while serving their country. The three pillars in the middle say “loyalty,” “honor,” and “sacrifice,” which is an apt definition of how all the men in the armed forces served during the war.

(Sorry about the bad photo quality. We weren’t supposed to take pictures, so I sneakily took this one with my phone)

The first time I felt angry and helpless was in the 7th grade in a Hawaiian studies/social studies class. The topic was on World War II and we were watching a documentary on the events that transpired in Hawai'i. One of my classmates burst out yelling “Fuckin Japs!” and a whole lot of other obscenities about the Japanese. She was obviously upset and had family that was affected by the bombings or that were enlisted to serve in the military, and I now recognize and empathize with her to that degree. But that was the first time I truly felt like a lesser person among my peers. My other classmates laughed at what was going on and subtly agreed with her as she had to be restrained and calmed down by one of the teacher’s assistants. Our teacher from the mainland tried to ease the situation and commend those Japanese-Americans that fought for the U.S., but it was ineffective and my peers were no longer paying attention. 

Being the only full blooded Japanese person in the class (although there were probably one or two others who were part Japanese), I felt offended and angry and there is so much that I should have said, but didn’t. Like that I’m a fourth/fifth generation local Japanese-American in Hawai'i and my grandmother and her family were arrested and interned –flown from Honolulu to Jerome, Arkansas and Tule Lake, California to be imprisoned and stripped of their possessions simply because they looked like the enemies. That she hid that part of her to her children, and did not speak of the experience. That restitution did not come until after she had passed away. That my dad’s uncle served in the 100th Battalion to fight for our country alongside hundreds of other Japanese-Americans who wanted so badly to prove the racists wrong – that they were American too and were willing to risk their lives to honor that. That my great-grandmother of the Big Island lost family members in Hiroshima, the day they decided to drop the bombs, citing President Truman as the reason. There is so much that I wish I could have said that day, but didn’t. Instead, I wrote furiously in my journal that night as it was the only way I knew how to express myself.

When I visited the Manzanar internment camp for the first time a few years back, I finally learned the importance of retelling our history to those who may not know or understand. I’m still angry but now, I’m more vigilant and willing to share – for my grandma’s sake if not mine.