The 442nd: 5 facts about one of WWII's most decorated units

The Origins of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team

(Image: VVV #10. Ted Tsukiyama Papers, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library)
(Image: VVV #10. Ted Tsukiyama Papers, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library)

Before there was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, there were the Varsity Victory Volunteers. This was a small band of University of Hawaii undergraduates who had volunteered to serve a manual labor support for the U.S. Army on Oahu. These students petitioned to the military governor to find a way for them to contribute to the war.

A battalion of approximately 1,400 Japanese-American draftees would then train on the mainland: These soldiers were known as the 100th Infantry Battalion.

In January 1943, the War Department announced a call for volunteers for an all-Nisei regiment, and the VVV was asked to be disbanded to join the newly formed 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Organized in March 1943, 2,686 volunteers from Hawaii and 1,500 from the U.S. Mainland went to Camp Shelby, Miss. to begin training.

1. Where the 442nd fought

(Image: Hawaii War Records Depository Photos/University of Hawaii)

Members of the 442nd shipped out in 1944 to fight in Europe. They left for Italy, where they joined the 100th Infantry Battalion. They fought in eight major campaigns in France, Italy and Germany.

Perhaps one of the most notable battles that resulted in hundreds of losses was the "Lost Battalion" in France, where soldiers received orders to rescue a battalion surrounded more than a mile behind enemy lines. The 442nd RCT lost hundreds of men by their rescue efforts.

2. Most decorated unit of its size in U.S. military history

(Image: 442nd Veterans Club)

In the end, more than 13,000 served in the 442nd. In less than two years of combat, the unit earned more than 18,000 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 21 Medals of Honor. Upon their return to the U.S., they were praised by President Harry Truman for their bravery.

3. Other war efforts by Japanese-Americans

(Image: Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army)

Many Japanese-Americans also helped with the war in the Pacific, including those who made up the Military Intelligence Service. Nearly 6,000 people served as translators, intercepting Japanese communication. Due to the classified nature of their activities, Nisei members of the MIS didn't receive as much publicity as those in the 442nd and 100th Infantry Battalion.

4. Famous Face in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team

(Image: Hawaii News Now)

Among the thousands of Japanese-Americans who fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. He had dreams of becoming a doctor after the war, but had his hopes shattered after losing his right arm to a grenade wound.

Inouye received several military decorations, including the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

5. Remembering Edward Yamasaki

(Image: Hide Koda/Facebook)

Edward Yamasaki, a 442nd RCT veteran close to the “Go For Broke” film, died in April at the age of 92. He received the “Legion of Honor,” the highest decoration awarded by France, for his role in liberating the country during the war, carrying 20 bodies of fallen comrades each day. Stacey Hayashi, the film’s creator, says he was very instrumental in bringing the film to life.

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