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Patriots Under Fire:
Japanese Americans in World War II
by Kathryn Shenkle, Historian, Arlington National Cemetery


Fifty years later, the "Remember Pearl Harbor" 100th Infantry Battalion, and the "Go For Broke" 442d Regimental Combat Team is still the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.

Members of this unit earned over 18,000 individual decorations including 9,486 Purple Hearts, and 5,200 Bronze Stars. The Combat Team earned five Presidential Citations in 20 days of Rhineland fighting, the only military unit ever to claim that achievement.

General of the Army George C. Marshall praised the team saying, "there were superb: the men of the 100/442d... showed rare courage and tremendous fighting spirit... everybody wanted them." General Mark W. Clark (Fifth Army) said, "these are some the best... fighters in the U.S. Army. If you have more, send them over."

This World War II unit was composed of up to 4,500 nisei, which means second generation Americans of Japanese ancestry.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote, "a combat team... of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent has my full approval, [and] will add to the... 5,000... already serving in the... [100th Infantry Battalion, and Military Intelligence Service]... Americanism is no... a matter of race or ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy."

The 100th Infantry Battalion came from Hawaii's National Guard, and distinguished itself in Italy before it joined the 442d R.C.T. on June 10, 1944. The unit was identified as 100/442d R.C.T. in tribute to its previous war record. The team also included the 442d Infantry Regiment, the 522d Field Artillery Battalion, the 232d Combat Engineer Company, and the 206th Army Ground Forces Band.

The 442d may be best known for its rescue of the Lost Texas Battalion of the 36th Infantry Division, in the forests of the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France, near Biffontaine and Bruyeres on October 30, 1944.

As part of the Allies' Southern Group of Armies commanded by Jacob L. Devers, the 100/442d fought in eight campaigns and made two beachhead assaults in Italy and France, captured a submarine, and opened the gates of Dachau prison.

Dachau was on the European concentration camps where human beings deemed undesirable by the Third Reich were murdered after being detained, starved, and tortured, and after having their rights to work, learn, and live as free citizens stolen from them.

It is ironic that this team liberated Dachau, because Japanese Americans from the U.S. west coast were detained in American camps before being drafted into service, and still had family in those U.S. camps. Nisei were denied their property, freedom to move, live in their own homes, work, and learn in the western United States. Draft boards classified Japanese Americans as "4-C: undesirable alien" when the war began. Later, some were "found qualified for service" when volunteers were needed for the 442d Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service.

Nisei who volunteered for the 442d from the continental U.S. came from several barbed-wire fenced relocation camps including: Manzanar, and Tule Lake in California, Poston, and Gila River in Arizona, Topaz in Utah, Minidoka in Idaho, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Granada in Colorado, and Rowher, and Jerome in Arkansas.

The 100/442d RCT team's insignia is the torch-bearing right had of the Lady Freedom, the Statue of Liberty, an international symbol of freedom. Nisei patriotically and honorably fought for freedom with valor while their freedom was tragically denied at home.

The United States paid long overdue restitution to the families of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were unjustly held by their fellow Americans during World War II when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.


President Harry Truman called the Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service (M.I.S.) the "human secret weapon for the U.S. Armed Forces" against the Japanese in the Pacific. General Willoughby, MacArthur's intelligence chief credited the M.I.S. nisei with shortening the war by two years, and saving countless thousands of lives.

Second generation Japanese Americans learned Japanese at the Presidio in California, and at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling in Minnesota. The first U.S. military foreign language school, the Army Military Intelligence Service Language School was the forerunner of the Defense Language Institute. Even the very existence of the school was a well-kept classified secret.

There were only a few Japanese American agents in the Philippines before World War II. During the war, about 6,000 M.I.S. agents fought in all Army units in the Pacific, and were assigned to the Allied forces of Australia, Britain, Canada, China, and India.

Military Intelligence Service duties included: translating captured documents, interrogating prisoners of war, writing propaganda leaflets, listening to enemy radio communications, and translating at the Japanese war crimes trials and during the Occupation of Japan in the civil government.

The contributions of the M.I.S. nisei varied from producing timely intelligence on enemy intentions and field operations to producing the Japanese Imperial Navy's top secret plans for the defense of vital areas in the Pacific from the Marianas to the Philippines, and from Okinawa to the Japanese homeland.

The most important action resulting from a Japanese translation was at Bougainville in 1942. An M.I.S. translator translated an uncoded Japanese radio transmission that Admiral Yamamoto was scheduled to go on an inspection tour of the bases around the Solomon Islands. U.S. Navy P-38s had fifteen minutes of fuel time available to intercept Yamamoto's aircraft near Bougainville. His plane was successfully intercepted and shot down. This was a blow to the morale of the Japanese, and was a morale booster for the Allies in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had directed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 after which the United States entered World War II in both the Pacific and Atlantic Theaters of Operation.

The most important document ever translated by the M.I.S. was the Z-Plan of the Japanese Combined Fleet date 5 March 1944, signed by Admiral Koga, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet at Palau. Translated and distributed on 23 May 1944, the Z-Plan was the Japanese Imperial Navy's strategy to actively defend against any attacks on the Marianas and the Philippine Islands by the U.S. Navy. The translation of this strategic document made it possible for the Navy to gain victory in the Marianas and the Philippines, and subsequently in other areas of the Pacific.

Other Services of Japanese Americans in World War II:

Paratroopers in the Pacific
Air Force
Marine Corps
Office of Strategic Services
Coast Guard
Merchant Marine
Navy Seabees (Construction Battalions)

Nisei Women served in:

Military Intelligence Service
Women's Army Corps
Army Nurse Corps
United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency


The Japanese American Citizens League, and the Japanese American Veterans Association honor Japanese American Veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery when they place flowers on each grave, hold a memorial service, and place a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknowns every Memorial Day weekend.

Japanese American Veterans buried here have served in the 442d Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service, and as medics in World War II, and served in Korea and Vietnam.

The first two Japanese Americans buried here were: PFC Fumitake Nagato, and PFC Sadao Tanamachi who were in the 442d RCT. The first M.I.S. nisei buried here was: Technician Third Grade Hisao Matsumoto.

Those who served in the 442d RCT in Europe include: (section 12) PFC Nagato, PFC Nakamura, PFC Tanamachi, PFC Murakami, PVT Raito Nakashima, SGT Wataru Nakashima (Raito's brother), PFC Hada, PFC Toyota, PVT Nagano, PFC Tanaka, CPL Kokubu, PFC Morihiro, T/SGT Jimmy Shimizu; (13) PVT Ben Masaoka, PFC Onoye; (34) PVT Oba, PVT Shiozawa, PFC Kuge, T/4 Ishida; (50) T/4 Kanazawa (medic); (53) Medic Ito, 100th Infantry; (67) LTC Osato; and CL Shigeru Ishii.

Those who served in the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific include: (34) T/4 Yamaguchi; (38) SGT Osamu Shimizu; (43) T/3 Matsumoto; (60) COL Okazaki; (66) COL Buto, COL Sakai; (69) MAJ Hirai; (Columbarium) Kay Keiichi Sugahara (OSS), and LT Kobayashi.

Non-nisei associated with the 442d RCT include: (30) Colonel Virgil R. Miller, U.S. Army, Commanding Officer, 442d RCT; (67) Captain (then-Lieutenant) Norman Kurlan; and (41) historian Joseph Harrington (JOC, U.S. Navy) author of Yankee Samurai; (section 1) Genera Jacob L. Devers, commander of forces in the which the 442d served.

A non-nisei in the M.I.S., 1LT Jerome Joseph Londin (Court 3) skillfully convinced Japanese troops to surrender in the Philippines in their native language.

My husband's interned,
and my son's a soldier.
Oh, all so hard to bear,
I lament
encaged behind wire.

-Written at an Arizona Detention Camp in 1943

Sign designating Area Limits for Japanese Americans


Prepared May 2006