Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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Participation in U.S. Armed Forces

Selective Service Milestones. Counting draftees, volunteers, and pre-Pearl Harbor enlistees, more than 33,000 Nisei served in World War II, 6,000 of them in the Pacific Theater. During 1943-45, some branches of the military, in addition to the regular Army, were opened to persons of Japanese ancestry On July 22, 1943, for instance, the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps began accepting Japanese Americans. On December 13, the first evacuee girl to be inducted into this organization, Miss Iris Watanabe of the Granada War Relocation Center, was sworn into service in the office of the Governor of Colorado in Denver. [22] Some branches of the military, however, remained closed to Japanese Americans for the duration of the war. The Navy, for instance, did not announce its acceptance of Nisei until November 14, 1945, several months after the war ended. At least one Japanese American served in the U.S. Marines, and several hundred served in the U.S. Merchant Marine. [23]

On January 20, 1944, the Army announced that Selective Service inductions of Nisei would be resumed. As a result, 3,377 men were called before July 1, 1944. Of this number, 1,430 were accepted, 460 were inducted into the Enlisted Reserve Corps, and 194 entered on active duty. Of those called, 188 refused induction, and 106 of them were arrested by officials of the Department of Justice by June 30, 1944. The "great majority answered the call willingly," however, and "the departure of most of the boys" who were "summoned to active duty" were occasions "marked by patriotic demonstrations in the centers."

The principal resistance to the Selective Service developed at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center where 76 men refused to be inducted, "owing largely to the influence of a group in the community which called itself the 'Fair Play Committee."' The head of this committee argued that it was unjust to draft Nisei until all discrimination against Japanese Americans was eliminated, and the Nisei were admitted to all branches of the Army and Navy on an equal footing with other Americans. These arguments "were cautiously phrased, however, in an effort to avoid statements that might incriminate the committee members." The committee chairman, a U.S. citizen born in Hawaii who had never been to Japan and had no record of disloyalty, was segregated to Tule Lake on April 1, 1944, together with several of his principal supporters. At Tule Lake, he was later taken into custody by the FBI on charges of violating federal sedition and conspiracy laws. [24]

On June 12, 1944, a mass trial for 63 defendants from Heart Mountain began at the federal district court in Cheyenne. Wyoming. Each of the men was charged with violation of the Selective Service Act through failure to submit to a pre-induction physical examination. While acknowledging that the defendants "were loyal citizens of the United States" and that they desired "to fight for their country if they were restored their rights as citizens," the court sentenced all of the men to three years in a federal penitentiary on June 26. About half of the men went to Fort Leavenworth, while the remainder were sent to McNeil Island in Washington. The 63 men remained in prison until receiving conditional releases on an individual basis in 1946.

Meanwhile, on November 2, 1944, seven leaders of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, who had played a leading role in resisting the Selective Service at that relocation center, were convicted of counseling others to resist the draft, but this conviction was overturned by the 10th District Court of Appeals on December 14. Later on December 12, 1947, President Harry S Truman officially pardoned all of the men, and their full citizenship rights were formally restored. Ultimately, 267 persons from all ten relocation centers would be convicted of draft resistance. [25]

On November 18, 1944, the Selective Service established procedures permitting voluntary induction of Issei. Several months later, on March 21, 1945, Kazuo Ono, an evacuee in the Minidoka War Relocation Center, was the first Japanese alien evacuee to volunteer for service in the Army Before being accepted by the Army, he made two unsuccessful attempts to enlist. [26]

On May 28, 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the decision of a lower court that Americans of Japanese ancestry residing in relocation centers may not refuse draft summons. Less than one week later, on June 1, the U.S. Army ruled that drafted Japanese American soldiers would no longer be placed in the Enlisted Reserve Corps while awaiting call to active service. Henceforth they would be processed in military reception centers on the same basis as other drafted men. [27]

100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. While Nisei evacuees in war relocation centers were officially prohibited from serving in the U.S. Army on June 17, 1942, an all-Nisei infantry battalion was activated in Hawaii on June 10. Ironically, no mass evacuation or confinement of Nisei in government-operated relocation centers had been undertaken in Hawaii in the wake of Pearl Harbor. [28]

The 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, which would ultimately develop from this activation, was noteworthy because it was the only Japanese American unit to be established in the U. S. Army. In addition, it was the most highly decorated unit in the Army. The unit also had the honor to be reviewed by President Harry S Truman in July 1945 upon its return to the United States. On July 15, 1946, President Truman would honor the unit with a Presidential Unit Citation. The combined 100th and 442nd suffered 9,486 casualties and won 18,143 individual decorations for valor in battle, including a Congressional Medal of Honor and almost 10,000 Purple Hearts. The casualty rate for the unit was more than 300 percent of its authorized strength of 4,000 men.

The 100th/442nd had an unusual organizational history. One of its units, the Anti-Tank Company, was assigned to a glider assault. The 100th Battalion was also credited for the capture of a German submersible in October 1944. In addition, by rescuing the "Lost Battalion" of the 36th Infantry Division, 442nd members became "honorary Texans." Two of the 442nd members would later become members of the U.S. Senate representing Hawaii during the postwar period — Masayuhi "Spark" Matsunaga and Daniel Inouye.The 100th Infantry Battalion was activated as a six rifle company Separate Battalion on June 10, 1942. The troops consisted of Japanese American members of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard. Because of doubts about its loyalty, the battalion was transferred to the mainland at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, for training, and then was given only wooden guns with which to train. Correspondence of the soldiers was read by military authorities before being mailed. The battalion was transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in January 1943 to complete its training. The 100th arrived in Oran, North Africa, on September 2, 1943, and was attached to the 34th Infantry. It landed at Salerno on September 26 and participated in the Italian Campaign, fighting as part of the 34th at Cassino. As a result of its accomplishments during the Italian campaign, it became known at the "Purple Heart Battalion." On November 25, Secretary of War Stimson gave the battalion special recognition for its accomplishments during the Italian Campaign, announcing its casualty list, listing decorations, and mentioning high praise accorded the men by their officers.

Meanwhile, in January 1943, the War Department announced formation of the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), and the new unit was activated on February 1, 1943. Upon announcement of the RCT, some 10,000 Nisei in Hawaii volunteered immediately On March 28, the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce held a farewell ceremony in front of Iolani Palace for 2,686 Nisei volunteers for the RCT. The RCT, composed of both Hawaiians and volunteers from the ten relocation centers, began military training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in May 1943. Later in January 1944 the Selective Service draft was reinstated for Nisei, thus providing additional personnel for the RCT. Comprised of three rifle battalions, an anti-tank company, a cannon company a service company, and a medical detachment, plus the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion and the 232nd Engineer Company (Combat), the only unit to start with Nisei officers, and the 206th Army Band, the 442nd went overseas in May 1943. The main body of the RCT arrived in Naples, Italy, on June 2, and on June 10 it was joined with the 100th Battalion in attachment to the 34th Infantry. After the breakout from Anzio, the RCT soon saw action north of Rome, where the 100th earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for liberating Belvedere, a town south of Florence and the seemingly impregnable Gothic Line. The 442nd stayed in Italy as part of the 34th Infantry until September 1944, when it went to France, landing at Marseilles on September 30. There it was attached to the 36th Division, also known as the Texas Division. The 442nd's Anti-Tank Company was detached to make a glider assault with the 517th Airborne. Soon the RCT was attached to the 36th Infantry for the Rhineland Campaign.

The 442nd fought in the Vosage at Bruyeres in eastern France, and then rescued the Texas "Lost Battalion" (1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Division). The 442nd's casualties resulting from the daring and highly-publicized relief effort for 211 men from October 15 to November 12 were heavy: 161 killed in action (13 were medics); 2,000 wounded (882 seriously); and 43 missing. Distinguished Unit Citations were awarded for actions at Belmont and Biffontaine prior to the rescue mission.

On November 28, 1944, the 442nd was posted to the French-Italian border with the 100th Battalion, near Monaco. This "Champagne Campaign" lasted until March 1945, when the regiment returned to Italy for the Po Valley Campaign. Attached to the 92nd Division, the RCT broke through the supposedly impregnable "Gothic Line" on April 5, less than one month before the war ended in Italy on May 2. In March the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion was detached from the RCT to participate with the 7th Army in the Central Europe Campaign, where it was among the first American units to liberate the German concentration camps at Dachau. [29]

Impact of Military Participation on Relocation Center Life. The movement of young men out of the relocation centers into the armed forces, although numerically small, had a profound impact on life in the camps. By December 1944, for instance, 1,543 men, ranging in numbers from less than 100 to nearly 300 from each center, had been accepted for service and were on active duty. By late 1944 the servicemen had been coming and going from the relocation centers for more than a year, returning to the relocation centers on furlough for visits with their families and friends. They had come back in uniform, and portions of barracks in all centers were established as United Services Organization (USO) entertainment facilities. Thus, the USO facilities became a feature of life in the relocation centers that link them with communities throughout the United States. In the centers, women worked on 1000-stitch belts, in the Buddhist tradition, for the protection of the soldiers on the battlefields. Mothers spent time preparing food for parties, and their daughters arranged dances and other social affairs attended by young people who gathered to socialize with the soldiers. The senryu poets, beginning in 1944, began to write of the uniformed Nisei and the feelings of their parents about them.

At first the coming and going of soldiers affected only relatively few persons in each center, but, many of those affected were parents who had themselves accepted the centers as homes for the duration of the war. Most of the parents of soldiers were men and women who belonged to the core of Issei who had formulated community sentiment. With reopening of Selective Service procedures to the Nisei in January 1944, more and more evacuees began to be affected as sons whose parents had opposed volunteering were taken in the draft. The activities of the USOs were increasingly participated in by at least mothers and sisters of families who had kept their attention averted from resettlement and the outside world. Farewell parties for drafted young men increased. Sometimes these events were merely family affairs, but more and more entire blocks became interested in the young men who were leaving. The recurring farewells became an increasingly prominent feature of relocation center life, and to a greater extent than in outside towns of similar size the whole community began to be affected and to give some recognition to the departing young men.

Inevitably, casualty lists began to have meaning for people in the relocation centers. Sentiment among the evacuees developed that the centers as a whole should pay tribute to the men in uniform. At first there was resistance to such ideas. Gradually, as the WRA administrators encouraged the erection of honor roll tablets listing the men in the armed forces in each center, sentiment swung behind the idea of community ceremonies. Buddhist and Christian ministers and community council chairmen and other evacuee spokesmen arranged ceremonies in honor of Nisei who had been killed. Memorial services became more and more frequent, and interest in them became widespread.

By midsummer 1944 the effects of Nisei participation in the U.S. armed forces on the evacuees in the relocation centers had become marked. For instance, an Issei mother observed in July:

You know things are a lot different than they were a while ago. People really rebelled at the time of registration. They said awful things about the government, and they spoke of the boys who volunteered almost as if they were traitors to the Japanese for serving a country that had treated the Japanese so badly. When Selective Service was re-instituted all one heard was that the government had no right to draft men out of a camp like this. At first when the boys left, their mothers wept with bitterness and resentment. They didn't think their sons should go. This week five have gone from our block. I tell you I'm surprised at the difference. Wives and mothers are sorry and they weep a lot. But now they really feel it is a man's duty to serve his country. They wouldn't want him not to go when he is called. When they talk among themselves, they tell each other these things. They feel more as they did before evacuation. [30]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002