Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd at a dance during WWII.

Remembering the Often Overlooked Japanese American Veterans of World War II

Wishing you a meaningful Memorial Day and a happy Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

*Chancellor Palpatine Voice* Have you ever heard the tale of the 442nd Infantry Regiment of the US Army in World War II?

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They are the most decorated regiment in US history, receiving 9,500 Purple Hearts, 5,200 Bronze Star Medals, 588 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 7 Distinguished Unit Citations, and twenty-one Congressional Medals of Honor.

Yet, chances are, you haven’t heard of them. Why? Because it and the 100th Battalion were the Japanese American regiment of World War II.

Who were the men of the 442nd?

The soldiers of the 442nd were Nisei or second-generation Japanese Americans. They were made up of volunteers and drafted men from Hawaii and the Continental U.S., most of the latter of whom had families in the concentration camps while they were serving in the European Theatre.

Though much of the country saw them as foreigners, aliens, spies, and traitors, they persevered. In fact, their motto, “Go-for-Broke,” was in many ways a reflection of their drive to give all for their country (though many sources also attribute the phrase to being a joke about the Hawaiian soldiers’ love of gambling).

The 18,000 men faced racism and awful leadership under General Dahlquist and were often sent to some of the worst fighting, suffering casualties by the hundreds. But the 442nd fought hard and were vital to the rescue of the Texan “Lost Battalion” and the fall of the Gothic Line. The regiment also rescued Holocaust survivors from a satellite Dachau concentration camp.

Even when the men returned home victorious, the anti-Japanese racism continued, not helped by the fact that when the interred Americans were finally released, most did not have homes to go back to. Their homes and businesses were taken over by their neighbors, resulting in millions of dollars worth of property loss.

Over the years, Congress and various presidents have corrected some of the wrongs, offering reparations for interred Japanese Americans (though only those still living) and honoring the whole regiment with a Congressional Medal of Honor for their service.

The soldiers themselves also worked hard to preserve the history of the unit for future generations, with some becoming advocates and activists for Asian Americans and other minorities. The group still hosts occasional reunions, though the number of veterans who can attend falls every year.

If you want to learn more, I would highly recommend looking up the Go-For-Broke Education Center, which is the largest repository of oral histories given by the soldiers themselves. They also self-produce educational videos and documentaries about the 442nd and various Black Regiments and soldiers of WWII.

Heroes Among Us: Medal of Honor Recipient Joe Hayashi

Heroes Among Us: The Kazuo Masuda Story

Heroes Among Us: How the Japanese American Soldiers Broke the Gothic Line in WWII 

Sharing Stories Around the Table: New Perspectives from the Los Angeles Torchbearers

Sharing Stories Around the Table: I Feel With My Heart

Living The Nisei Dream: Tamlyn Tomita

Civil Liberties Act of 1988: Keeping America’s Promise

Heroes Among Us: The Black Panthers of the 761st Tank Battalion

Heroes Among Us: Incident at Bamber Bridge

Heroes Among Us: Lieutenant John R. Fox

Allegiance: Broadway Musical

Go For Broke Movie

Wishing you a meaningful Memorial Day and a happy Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

(featured image: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)


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Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.