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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team

If you were an American citizen who had a Japanese heritage, it must have sucked to have been alive during WW II - specifically after Japan had bombed the U.S. naval complex of Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.

American citizens were almost immediately rounded up by their nation's military forces and placed in Internment camps for the duration of the war. While families were kept together, and were allowed a few items to take, most of what they owned - including businesses - were taken over and sold to 'real' American interest - IE - white America that didn't look like the enemy.

The same thing happened in Canada - and I assume in other countries - and more's the shame. Canadian citizen's became the enemy because of the color of their skin and the shape of their eyes - because of a former nationality. Canada wasn't at war with Japan - at least not really. Japan had not attacked Canada, but in war, when you attack one ally, you attack them all.

This whole mistreatment of citizens, in this case the United States of America because that's my focus here, is one sick and embarrassing part of American history.

I will say that should you wish to read an account of what life was like in an internment camp, you can read Obasan, about the struggles of a Canadian family of Japanese heritage in a Canadian internment camp. What a fugging sad book it is.

I should point out - being a child who came to Canada from India in the 1960s and grew up Canadian, I was all too aware as a precocious youngster that it was the governments I needed to hate - not the people of those countries. I was also aware that fanaticism is rampant in any nation and the idea to hate becomes very strong when fueled by media and political leaders when one's own country is attacked.

That is to say, I understand the concerns of the Americans - that perhaps 5th columnists could be hiding in their midst, but denounce the fact that everyone was guilty of it just because of one's parents or grandparents or great-grandparents place of origin. Trust me. I would have fought for Canada if asked, even if India - the place of birth of my parents, but not me - attacked Canada, such is my patriotism. But I wouldn't hate the people of India... just the government that decided to attack us.

So... I get it. I just don't like the whole internship concept because it could easily be me in their shoes.

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese-American men (I hate the hyphen!!!! These were Americans, as much as I am a Canadian!!!) were initially categorized as 4C - which means they were enemy aliens.

As such, with a 4C designation, they could NOT be drafted into the U.S. military when the U.S. entered into the war.

A few weeks later on February 19, 1942, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized military authorities "to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion."

Although it didn't state as much, it did mean that people of Japanese ancestry were screwed, and it did eventually mean internment camps.

In March 1942, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, issued the first of 108 military proclamations that resulted in the forced relocation from their residences to guarded relocation camps of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast.

On the American protectorate of Hawaii (not yet a State), there was a population of some 150,000 people - consider that Hawaii's total population including them was 400,000 as of a 1937 census.

But Hawaii had a huge problem because of such numbers - its economy would have collapsed if it took away 37.5 per cent of its population and placed them in internment camps - and it would have been a LOT of internment camps.

In early 1942, if you were an American of Japanese ancestry, you were discharged from active service.

When the Hawaii Territorial Guard was discharged, General Delos Emmons, commander of the U.S. Army in Hawaii, decided to keep over 1,300 American soldiers (of Japanese ancestry) of the 298th and 299th Infantry Regiment regiments of the Hawaii National Guard.

These people who were discharged then asked General Emmons if they could still help the U.S. war effort - it was granted.

Now known as the Varsity Victory Volunteers, they did construction detail for the military, but still General Emmons was worried about their loyalty, as I am sure most of the military was.

Emmons helped organize Americans of Japanese ancestry into the 298th and 299th regiments into the Hawaiian Provisional Battalion, and were eventually sent to Oakland, California on June 10, 1942 and then on June 12 to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin - which is about as middle America and as far from the beaches of Hawaii as one might think.

On June 15, the battalion was renamed the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) or the 'One Puka Puka' (a Hawaiian term).

The Varsity Victory Volunteers continued their allegiance to the American flag and the 10tth performed so well in training that on February 1, 1943 the U.S. decided to reverse its decision about Japanese Americans serving, and allowed it to form a combat unit consisting entirely of Americans of Japanese heritage.

But first... they had to take a loyalty test.

Simple really.

Question #27 and #28 were designed to weed out people:
  • Question 27: "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?"
  • Question 28: "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?"
About 25 percent of the Nisei (second generation... it really is people born in the U.S. or its protectorates to parents born in Japan) answered "No", or answered with a 'qualifier', while others didn't bother to answer it at all - leaving it blank.

Of those who provided a 'qualifying' answer, they said yes to both questions, but said that interning Americans of Japanese heritage was racism.

What?! Racism in the U.S.? Noooooo. (Again... this is about the U.S.... and I am well aware that racism exists in every damn country... maybe not Vatican City (maybe)... )

Still, that left 75 percent of the testees (is that a word) willing to enlist and swear allegiance (again) to the U.S. They asked for 1,500 volunteers from Hawaii and another 3,000 from the continental U.S.

They got 10,000 volunteers from Hawaii alone. It was less popular on the mainland, but that's because the folks there were help in internment camps.

So... perhaps to save face, the U.S. asked for 2900 men from Hawaii and only 1,500 from the mainland, though only 1,256 did so.

Perturbed, or unperturbed, the U.S. took 3,000 Hawaiians and 800 mainlanders and formed the 442 Infantry Regimental Combat Team under orders from President Roosevelt who said: "Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry."

Eventually, with the aid of the Draft, 14,000 men eventually served in the 442nd Regiment.

Members of the 442nd with a captured Nazi Germany flag as a trophy.

The 442 RTC (Regimental Combat Team) consisted of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions, the 442nd Infantry, and later the 100th Infantry Battalion who replaced the 1st, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, the 232nd Engineer Company, an anti-tank company, cannon company, service company, medical detachment, headquarters companies, and the 206th Army Band.

While Americans of German ancestry and Italian ancestry were allowed to fight in Europe against Italy and Germany, the Japanese were not allowed to fight against the Japanese in the Pacific... which still sounds a whole lot like they weren't trusted - or racism.

Still, some Americans of Japanese descent were handpicked to join the Military Intelligence Service to act as translators.

Everybody loves that great American pastime of baseball, including the 442nd baseball team.
The 100th Infantry Battalion was sent to North Africa to invade Italy, while the 442nd remained in Mississippi to train other Nisei soldiers who were sent as replacements to the 100th who fought valiantly in Europe.

The 100th later joined under the command of the 442 RTC in 1944 as its 1st Battalion. Confusing? A Bit. But it is the Army, and the courage of these troops did cause the U.S. to change its mind about things - a bit. The 100th was actually nicknamed the Purple Heart Battalion because of its propensity for having soldiers wounded in action (you get the Purple Heart medal for that), which means they were placed in danger quite a bit, too.

Need some cannon fodder? Send in the Nip squad. It might never have been said, but the sentiment was there.

I'm not going to tell you every single battle the Nisei fought in, but there were many. Many killed, many wounded. Many survived physically unscathed.

The bravery and fighting record of the 442nd and those in the Military Intelligence sector did have one positive effect back home - it eased restrictions and the eventual incarceration of the 120,000 people in the internment camps before the war ended.

Members of the 442nd returning home to racism aboard the Victory.

But few back home knew of the 442nd and its exploits, as soldiers returning home still saw signs that read: "No Japs Allowed", meaning they weren't welcome in shops or restaurants.

Homes they had owned prior to Pearl Harbor had also been vandalized.

While there is one fantastic story of bravery I want to tell you about - about a man who became quite famous in the United States of America, that will have to wait for another day.

In the mean time, the 442nd won 18,143 awards for its military deeds during WWII:
  • Medal of Honor - 21;
  • Distinguished Service Cross - 52;
  • Distinguished Service Medal - 1;
  • Silver Star - 560 (28 with Oak Leaf Clusters for a second award);
  • Legion of Merit Medal - 22;
  • Soldier's Medal - 15
  • Bronze Star Medal - 4,000 (1,200 with Oak Leaf Clusters for a second award)
  • Purple Heart Medal - 9,486
Lastly, on October 5, 2010, U.S. president Barack Obama awarded the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion and Nisei serving in the Military Intelligence Service the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award (along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom) that U.S. confers - bestowed by the United States Congress.

The medal is awarded to persons "who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient's field long after the achievement."

Considering WWII ended 65 years earlier, it almost seems a little too late... but that's what history often has a chance of achieving properly. It corrects its mistakes.

Makes me wonder what it did to placate its citizens placed in an internment camp. Hmmm.

Anyhow... the 442nd's battalion motto was "Go for broke" - and it certainly appears as though they lived and died it.

Andrew Joseph

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