On Wednesday, the United States Congress awarded its highest civilian honor
to a group that had waited more than 60 years to be recognized for its service.
The Congressional Gold Medal
was awarded to the Japanese-Americans
who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion
, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team
, and the Military Intelligence Service
during World War II. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. government rounded up Japanese-Americans in the western United States and placed them in internment camps. (previously
) Despite the atmosphere of prejudice and suspicion that surrounded them, many young Nisei
(the American-born children of Japanese immigrants) still wanted to fight for their country.
The 100th Infantry Battalion, which comprised Nisei men formerly with the Hawaiian National Guard, was activated in June 1942
. Its motto was "Remember Pearl Harbor."
After training in Wisconsin and Mississippi, the "One-Puka-Puka"
shipped out for North Africa. They were then sent to Italy as the Allies fought their way up the peninsula. Seeing action in Monte Cassino
and Anzio, the 100th suffered so many casualties that it earned the nickname "The Purple Heart Battalion."
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team
came about after the War Department purged the University of Hawaii's ROTC of all Japanese-Americans. The expelled students petitioned the military governor of Hawaii to permit them to form a volunteer labor battalion. He assented, and the Varsity Victory Volunteers
were born. Their hard work helped convince the War Department to allow Nisei
to serve in the Army, and in 1943 President Roosevelt announced the formation of the 442nd RCT. About two-thirds
of the unit's men were Hawaiians; the rest were Nisei from the mainland. Its motto was "Go For Broke."
After training, the 442nd was dispatched to Italy to meet the 100th Infantry Battalion, which was then formally attached to the 442nd. (Due its outstanding performance, however, the 100th was permitted to keep its original designation.) After seeing action in Italy, the 442nd was sent to France. In October 1944
, the unit was ordered to rescue the "Lost Battalion"--elements of Texas National Guard 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment that had been surrounded by German forces in the Vosges Mountains. After a number of failed attempts, the 442nd broke the German lines and rescued about 220 men. In doing so, the 442nd suffered more than 800 casualties
. Some of the 442nd's men later participated in the liberation of Dachau, and the unit was also involved in breaking the stalemate at the Gothic Line
. The 442nd was deactivated after the war, but was subsequently reactivated and reorganized. Today it exists as the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, the only infantry unit within the Army Reserve
Although smaller and not as well known as the other two units, the Military Intelligence Service
played a crucial role in the war. The MIS was partially composed of Japanese-American soldiers who were trained as linguists, translators, and interrogators
. (Another branch of the MIS included German-speaking immigrants
from Austria, Germany, and elsewhere.) Unlike the 442nd, which never saw action in the Pacific Theater, the MIS played a role in almost every major battle in the Pacific
. It also aided in civil affairs work during the occupation and reconstruction of Japan after the war.
Since the end of the war, Japanese-American veterans have received more recognition for their service. One of the earliest depictions of their story was the 1951 film Go For Broke! (YouTube, complete movie)
, starring Van Johnson. The film dramatized the story of the 442nd RCT. More recently, the character of Mr. Miyagi
in the original (1984) Karate Kid
was a veteran of the 442nd and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. In fact, 21 members
of the 442nd received the Medal of Honor, including Sen. Daniel Inouye
(D.-HI), who spoke at Wednesday's ceremony:
"This has been a long journey, but a glorious one."