They fought a fierceBy Gregg K. Kakesako
enemy abroad, hate and
distrust at home
They lived and died by their motto, "Go For Broke."
They fought with bravery through eight major European campaigns of World War II in just two years.
They battled not only the Germans, but also hatred and racial prejudice at home, where they were considered "enemy aliens."
"Go For Broke" they did each time they charged a German machine-gun nest in the hills of Italy or France.
The toll, however, was deadly -- 680 dead and nearly 9,500 wounded.
Most of the members of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were originally barred from military service.
Other than the niseis who were already drafted and serving in the Hawaii National Guard, Japanese Americans were not allowed in until President Franklin Roosevelt and the War Department re-opened military service for citizens of Japanese ancestry in 1943.
By the close of World War II, more than 8,000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry or second generation niseis won 18,142 individual decorations for valor, making the 100th and 442nd "the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the United States."
They were awarded 20 Medals of Honor, 19 presented today in Washington, D.C.
They were even made honorary Texans in appreciation from the soldiers of the "Lost Battalion," the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Division from Texas, whom they rescued in the Vosges Mountains of France in 1944.
Following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, many of the Japanese Americans who were in uniform were disarmed and assigned to menial labor or discharged. Some like University of Hawaii ROTC cadets formed the Varsity Victory Volunteers and built barracks, dug ditches and strung barbed wire for the Army.
But local pressure forced the Army to reverse its position and the 100th Battalion -- "One Puka Puka" -- was formed on June 12, 1942. One thousand three-hundred soldiers were shipped to Oakland and then trucked to Camp McCoy, Wis., for training and later to Camp Shelby, Miss. The 100th Battalion was made up largely of pre-war draftees who were in the Hawaii Army National Guard's 298th and 299th Infantry Regiment and received basic training at Schofield Barracks. Some of the 100th Battalion members also were volunteers who enlisted before Dec. 7, 1941.
Based on the training record of the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Team was activated on Feb. 1, 1943. With a unit motto "Go for Broke," its ranks were filled with more than 2,500 Japanese Americans from Hawaii and 1,300 from mainland internment camps.
On Aug. 11, 1943, the 100th Battalion was sent overseas and landed at Oran in North Africa, where it was assigned to the 34th Red Bull Division. The 100th was the first to feel the enemy's wrath, landing at the beaches of Salerno, Italy, on Sept. 22, 1943, and later at Volturno, Cassino and Anzio. The 100th earned six Distinguished Service Crosses in its first weeks of combat.
It gained the reputation as a fierce combat unit, with more than 1,000 of its soldiers wounded in battle, earning the nickname the "Purple Heart Battalion."
On Aug. 10, 1944, the 100th Battalion was attached to the 442nd, retaining its 100th designation, and went to battle first in Italy and then southern France. By October 1944, the 100th/442nd had moved up the Rhone Valley to Epinal, where it liberated the towns of Biffontaine and Bruyeres and then was called on to break the German's stranglehold on the "Lost Battalion," which had been cut off for almost a week and was low on food and ammunition.
At the end of the battle, the 100th/442nd lost 200 men, and 600 others lay wounded. The total number of casualties exceeded the number of soldiers from the Texas unit they had saved. It was a defining moment for the 100th/442nd.
After a short rest in southern France, Gen. Mark Clark personally requested that the 100th/442nd return to Italy in March 1945 as part of the 5th Army to undertake a diversionary assault on what the Germans believed was the impenetrable Gothic Line -- a series of mountain fortifications. But the diversionary tactic surprised the Germans, and the 100th/442nd destroyed the western sector of the Po Valley-Gothic Line.
One unit of the 442nd -- the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion -- also was involved in liberating inmates from the Dachau concentration camp.
Besides the 100th Battalion, the 442nd was composed of two other infantry battalions, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, the 206th Army Band and anti-tank, cannon and service companies.
The 100th/442nd were deactivated in 1946. A year later, the unit was reactivated as a Hawaii Army Reserve unit.