Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month: Spotlight on 442nd Combat Infantry Group

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. David J. Ross
  • 18th Civil Engineer Group
As we embrace Asian Pacific Heritage Month, it is only fitting that we recognize the warriors who were at the forefront of one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history. The U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed of the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Engineering Battalion and the 100th Battalion, is a shining example of how people of Asian and Pacific descent contributed to the fabric of today's military. 

Japanese-American units were created in the Army since young second-generation (Nisei) Japanese men were often eager to fight against the Axis Powers. In order to eliminate confusion that might arise in the Pacific Rim, the Nisei units were sent only to the Mediterranean and European theaters of operation. The 442nd Infantry Regiment was the largest Nisei unit and fought in Italy, Southern France and Germany. The 442nd was known for its bravery and determination, as reflected by the unit motto: "Go For Broke," a Hawaiian slang term from the dice game craps. "Go For Broke" meant to risk everything, give everything you have - all or nothing. 

The 100th Battalion, the first all Japanese-American Nisei military unit, was formed from the Japanese-Americans who comprised a large part of the Hawaii National Guard. These Nisei were sent to Camp McCoy, Wis., and Camp Shelby, Miss. They adopted the motto: "Remember Pearl Harbor." 

In 1943, the War Department was in desperate need of additional manpower. It sent recruiters to the relocation camps asking for volunteers to form a new Japanese-American combat unit - the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Volunteers were accepted from Hawaii where 12,500 men had volunteered. The Nisei volunteers were combined with Japanese-Americans still in the military. 

On June 2, 1944, the 442nd landed at Naples and maneuvered to the Anzio beaches. On June 15, the 100th Battalion and the 442nd were merged together. After heavy fighting at Belvedere, Luciana, and Livorno, the 442nd was presented with a Presidential Unit Citation. After fighting at the Arno River in August 1944, the 442nd pushed to France for an attack in the Vosages Mountains. The 442nd's mission was to capture the town of Bruyeres. In doing so, the 442nd captured more than 200 German soldiers. 

Their bloodiest battle occurred during their rescue of the "Lost Battalion." Their assignment was to clear a ridge deep in the Vosages, but the Germans cut them off. They were ordered to rescue the Lost Battalion in a real-life "Saving Private Ryan" mission. Enemy resistance was fierce. The objective was secured after the 522nd Field Artillery and the regimental Cannon Company poured a paralyzing concentration of fire on the German troops defending it. The 522nd earned the reputation as one of the fastest and most efficient artillery units in the European Theatre of operations in World War II. The l00th and 442nd infantrymen had high praise and appreciation for the fire support of the 522nd and sorely missed the 522nd when they had to attack the Gothic Line without the services of the 522nd. 

German prisoners revealed that Hitler gave orders to prevent any relief of the trapped battalion. The soldiers of the 100th and 442nd fought in dense woods, heavy fog, and in freezing temperatures. On Oct. 30, 1944, scouts from the Lost Battalion saw soldiers in olive-drab uniforms and with Japanese faces approaching. They knew the 442nd had broken through. 

In five days and nights of continuous combat, the 100th and 442nd had more than 800 casualties. In the 3rd Battalion, Company "K" only 17 riflemen remained and Company "I" had eight riflemen left. Sergeants commanded both companies; all the officers had been killed or wounded. 

These Japanese American units suffered an unprecedented casualty rate of 314 percent. More than 18,000 individual decorations were awarded including 22 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 28 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Silver Star, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Bronze Star and, perhaps most telling of the sacrifices made by these brave Asian Americans, 9,486 Purple Hearts. The 442nd Combat Infantry Group emerged as the most decorated combat unit of its size in the history of the United States Army. For its service in eight major campaigns in Italy and France, the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team earned eight Presidential Unit Citations. 

You would expect these soldiers to receive a hero's welcome upon their return to America. However, the majority were sent back to the internment camps. Many of these veterans were denied service at restaurants and stores and often their homes and property were burned. Today, our military is the most diverse and powerful in the world. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team's contributions must never be forgotten. 

For more information on these units, check out books such as Fire for Effect by The Historical Album Committee of The 522 Field Artillery Battalion of the 442 Regimental Combat Team or The Nisei Soldier: Historical Essays on World War II and the Korean War by Edwin M. Nakasone.