Remembering The Purple Heart Battalion of World War II

S. F. Mori

They served their country, the USA

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Purple Heart Medallion of the U.S. Military(Image in the public domain)

There segregated units of Japanese Americans in the U.S. Army

One of the great injustices at the start of World War II was that Americans of Japanese heritage were immediately looked upon as the enemy. These were American citizens. Young men who were serving in the U.S. Army were released from duty. Other young men who tried to enlist in the Army to show their patriotism and loyalty to the United States were denied. They had been reclassified as non-citizens. Their immigrant parents were called aliens, and the American citizens were called non-aliens.

After the Imperial Navy of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japanese Americans faced prejudice and racism. Most of the public did not distinguish between those who were American citizens born of Japanese immigrant parents in the United States and those who were citizens of Japan. The racism and hatred against these Americans were rampant.

The majority of young adults of Japanese heritage were attending college at that time or may have already graduated. Some had started their careers amidst difficulties because of racism. Their parents stressed education as an important goal for them to pursue. It was considered as a necessary phase of their lives.

There were several thousand young Japanese American men already serving in the United States Army when World War II began. Since Japanese Americans were reclassified as 4-F (unfit to serve) or 4-C (enemy aliens) those American citizens of Japanese descent who were serving in the military were released from the service. The United States did not want those of Japanese heritage to serve.

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Japanese American Soldiers of World War II Fought in the European Theater(Image in the public domain)

Then the government changed its mind. They later decided to set up a segregated unit of Japanese Americans called the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (442), some of those who had been relieved of their duty in the army volunteered for that unit. The Hawaii Guard had been disbursed, but in May of 1942, General George C. Marshall established the Hawaii Provisional Guard, which consisted of Japanese Americans. It was the 100th Infantry Battalion from Hawaii which later joined up with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They adopted the motto used by the Hawaii group, "Go For Broke" and were sent to battle on the European front.

The American concentration camps had been built in remote and desolate areas of the country, and Japanese Americans had been forcibly removed from their West Coast homes to be incarcerated in 1942. When the 442 was established, the Japanese American young men were asked to volunteer. Some of those held as prisoners in the camps volunteered for the Army, and others were drafted. Some who lived inland from the West Coast in relative freedom also signed up.

There were other Japanese Americans who joined the Military Intelligence Service within the U.S. Army. They were sent to the Pacific Theater to do intelligence work.

These brave souls wanted to prove their loyalty to their country, the land of their birth. Most of their immigrant parents encouraged them to serve because they considered America as the "home" of their children who had been born in the United States.

Those who served in the U.S. military showed their patriotism by working hard and fighting for their country. There were many casualties with those who were wounded or who died in battle. They were called the "Purple Heart Battalion" because of their bravery and the inordinate number of "Purple Heart Awards" earned and received by the 442. "Purple Heart" medallions were given to those who were injured or died while serving in the military.
In one effort where the 442 rescued "The Lost Battalion" from Texas, the 442 suffered 800 casualties while saving the 200 Texans. They later were considered as "Honorary Texans."

The history of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Battalion (the Purple Heart Battalion) is not well known. These brave soldiers are now almost all gone. A few in their nineties remain. They deserve to be recognized and appreciated.

As President Harry S. Truman told these soldiers at a ceremony in their honor after the war ended:

“You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice –and you have won. Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win – to make this great republic stand for just what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all the people all the time.”

[Reference: The Japanese American Story As Told Through a Collection of Speeches and Articles, www.thejapaneseamericanstory.com]

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I am a retired President/CEO of civil rights organizations. I have been a Mayor and California State Assemblyman as well as a College Instructor of Economics. I have also been an entrepreneur and international business consultant. I will be sharing articles mostly about life, politics, racism, travel, health, and relationships.

Salt Lake City, UT
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