Sunday, July 13, 2014

From Japanese Internment Camps to Combat, Part II


Nisei in European Theater
Many Japanese American researchers turn to pre-WWII records - census, land, city directories, etc., - but fail to look at the segregated Japanese 442nd Infantry and 100th Battalion records. It seems the internment of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor distracts even the most focused Japanese American researcher who instinctively dismisses the possibility that their ancestors would fight for the country that imprisoned their families. But, the military needed men and Japanese -American born citizens were asked to fight for their country

While families remained in the barbed wire camps, over 3,600 Japanese Americans from the mainland were released from their internment to serve in the US military. They served with the segregated units, 442nd Infantry and 100th Battalion along with thousands of Hawaiian resident Japanese Americans. The 442nd Infantry and 100th Battalions were made up of Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans, those born in America) combat soldiers led by white officers.  Between 19 to 22 thousand Japanese soldiers served with these two units, nicknamed “Go For Broke” regiments.  The “Go For Broke” monument best explains why Japanese Americans would fight for a country that “betrayed them.”

Rising to the defense of their country, by the thousands they came -
these young Japanese American soldiers from Hawaii,
the states, America's concentration camps -
to fight in Europe and the Pacific during World War II.
Looked upon with suspicion, set apart and deprived of their constitutional rights,
they nevertheless remained steadfast
and served with indomitable spirit and uncommon valor,
for theirs was a fight to prove loyalty.
This legacy will serve as a sobering reminder
that never again shall any group be denied
liberty and the rights of citizenship. – Ben H. Tamashiro

The 442nd and 100th were highly decorated with more than “four thousand Purple Hearts, 560 Silver Stars, seven Presidential Unit Citations and 21 Medals of Honor.” In addition to serving in combat, they served as translators and trained military interrogators. They were Nisei linguists to the military. But even with stellar military service, these WWII decorated soldiers were not welcomed at the end of the war.

100th Battalion
From 442nd Regimental Combat Team
“The 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) was the first U.S. Army unit of Japanese Americans activated in World War II.  The 100th Battalion began its existence as the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion that was activated on June 5, 1942 in Hawaii.  The soldiers of the Hawaiian Provisional Battalion came from various units of the Hawaiian National Guard.  The Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion was transferred to the mainland and arrived in San Francisco on June 12, 1942.  The unit was then designated the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate).” 

442nd Infantry
“The 442nd Regimental Combat Team [RCT] was activated on February 1, 1943 at Camp Shelby Mississippi.  The 442nd was comprised of the 442nd Infantry Regiment; the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion; the 232nd Combat Engineer Company.  The 442nd Regimental Combat Team [RCT] was composed of Japanese American volunteers from the internment camps, Hawaii, states outside of the west coast exclusion zone, and Japanese American soldiers who were already serving in the U.S. Army when the war broke out.  These Japanese American soldiers already in the Army would become the cadre for the new 442nd RCT.”

10 Places to Begin Research
  1. To become familiar with the Japanese soldiers, review Nisei in Uniform (1944).
  2.  As with many military units, there are dedicated societies for the 442nd and 100th battalion. Visit 442nd Regimental Combat Team Historical Society  
  3. Visit the Education Center for the  100th Infantry Battalion Veterans for a "digital library of stories, photographs and documents related to the men of the 100th infantry Battalion..."
  4.  If looking for a copy of your veterans military file, WWII Personnel Records are held at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. 
  5. Honolulu, Hawaii, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl), 1941-2001. These records/photos of plaques are digitized on
  6. Also researchers will find the U. S. Veterans Gravesites, ca. 1775-2006 records, that provide name, service information and birth and death dates of soldiers accompanying the cemetery information on
  7. A useful database is Descubra Nikkei. A search of Army, Combat soldiers, produced a list of 11361 veterans’ bios.
  8. For More Information on the Relocation Camps visit Japanese Internment Camps to Combat,
    Part I, Relocation Camps
  9. The San Francisco Gate published veteran accounts in Secret Revealed: Nisei’s WWII Role
  10. Many are not aware of the widespread practice of the Nisei lingusists: Loyal Linguists: Nisei in WWII Learned Japanese in Minnesota
Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

1 comment:

  1. My significant other has a cousin who was born in a camp. The cousin told me recently while discussing family history that many of his relatives who had been born in California gave up their American citizenship and went back to Japan. In Japan, what they experienced was worse than here, so they came back and had to apply for naturalization to become citizens again.