The 442nd Infantry Regiment, later 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was an infantry regiment of the United States Army and was the only infantry formation in the Army Reserve. The regiment is best known for its history as a fighting unit composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) who fought in World War II. Beginning in 1944, the regiment fought primarily in the European Theatre, particularly in Italy, southern France, and Germany.
The story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (442-RCT) is rooted in the history of the Japanese in Hawaii and America itself. As the second generation of Japanese born abroad, or the first Japanese generation born in Hawaii and America through the early 1910s and 1920s, the Nisei were American citizens and part of the larger greatest generation to be of the right age to face the conflict of World War II. This generation of Japanese born abroad best personifies the blending of American and Japanese cultures that laid the foundation for a resolute, cohesive, and dedicated unit that accomplished every assigned mission without fail.
The 442nd Regiment is the most decorated unit in the US military history. Created as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team when it was activated on February 1, 1943, the unit quickly grew to its fighting complement of 4000 men by April 1943, and an eventual total of about 14.000 men served overall. The unit earned more than 18.000 awards in less than two years, including 9.486 Purple Hearts and 4.000 Bronze Star Medals. The unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (five earned in one month). Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor. In 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and associated units who served during World War II, and in 2012, all surviving members were made chevaliers of the French Légion d’Honneur for their actions contributing to the liberation of France and their heroic rescue of the Lost Battalion.
Arriving in the European Theatre, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with its three infantry battalions, one artillery battalion, and associated HQ and service companies were attached to the 34th Infantry Division. On 11 June 1944, near Civitavecchia, Italy, the existing 100th Infantry Battalion, another all-Nisei fighting unit which had already been in combat since September 1943, was transferred from the 133rd Infantry Regiment to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Because of its combat record, the 100th was allowed to keep its original designation, with the 442nd renaming its 1st Infantry Battalion as its 100th Infantry Battalion. The related 522nd Field Artillery Battalion liberated at least one of the satellite labor camps of Dachau concentration camp and saved survivors of a death march near Waakirchen.
The 442nd saw heavy combat during World War II and was not inactivated until 1946, only to be reactivated as a reserve unit in 1947 and garrisoned at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. The 442nd lives on through the 100th Battalion/442nd Infantry Regiment, which has maintained alignment with the active 25th Infantry Division since a reorganization in 1972.
This alignment has resulted in the 100th/442nd Infantry Regiment’s mobilization for combat duty in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, in which the unit was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation. With the 100th/442nd Infantry Regiment the last infantry unit in the Army Reserve, the 442nd’s current members carry on the honors and traditions of the historical unit.
Last Voyage of the Inakawa-Maru – 1806
The first known arrival of Japanese to the Kingdom of Hawaii came on May 5 1806, involving survivors of the ill-fated ship Inawaka-maru who had been adrift aboard their disabled ship for more than seventy days. The Inawaka-maru, a small cargo ship built-in 1798 in Osaka, was owned by MansukeMotoya of Kitaniura, Hiroshima, was chartered by the Kikkawa fiefdom in Iwakuni, a district in the present Yamaguchi prefecture, to transport floor mats and horse feed to the residence of the Kikkawalord in Edo (Tokyo today).
The trip began in November 1805. The ship was manned by Capt Niinaya Ginzo, thirty-three years old; Master Ichiko Sadagoro, fifty-three; and four sailors: Hirahara Zenmatsu, thirty-four; Akazaki Matsujiro, thirty-four; Yumori Kasoji, thirty-one, all from Kitaniura; and Wasazo, twenty-seven, from Higashinomura.
The ship departed from Kitaniura, Hiroshima, on November 7, 1805, and took on its designated cargo together with two officials of the Kikkawa fiefdom at Iwakuni. Before leaving for Edo, however, the ship returned to Kitaniura and then headed for Edo on November 27, 1805.
On December 21, 1805, the Inawaka-maru arrived in Shinagawa, a port in Edo. After unloading the cargo headed southward stopping at Kanagawa, Uraga, and Shimoda. On January 6 1806, the vessel departed Shimoda for its final homebound voyage.
While crossing the Sea of Enshunada near the Shizuoka prefecture, the Inawaka-maru encountered a snowstorm backed by a strong east wind. The snowstorm turned into heavy rain, and the wind became stronger. The ship was soon disabled and was blown toward the Eastern Pacific. On January 7, 1806, due to the increased force of the wind, the crew cut the mast down, and the disabled ship began drifting further eastward. On January 11, two rocky islets were sighted, but a decision was made not to make a landing. The ship continued drifting eastward. The supply of water ran out on January 20. Except for relief during an occasional rainfall, the crew often went without water for four or five days. Rainwater was collected by every means possible. At times they had to quench their thirst by sucking on cloth that contained some moisture.
By February 28, the supplies of rice and water were nearly exhausted. The last dinner was cooked with the last little supply of rice. They all prepared for death, hoping that their ship would take them to their Buddhist paradise. On March 15, a flying fish jumped into the ship. Zenmatsu made a soup with it and shared it with the rest of the crew. They made hand-made hooks and used the innards of the flying fish to catch more fish. In this way, they were able to regain their strength. Some fish were saved by drying.
On March 20 1806, a foreign ship appeared. The crew of the Inawaka-maru climbed onto the deckhouse roof and signaled the ship by waving a mat and shouting for help. At first, they seemed not to have been seen, but finally, the ship came closer and lowered her sails. Four foreigners, including one carrying a sword, who seemed to be the captain, came up on deck as the ship circled around the Inawaka-maru.
Upon realizing that the Japanese vessel was disabled, they came aboard. Two sets of Japanese swords that belonged to the two officials from Iwakuni were found in a closet at the stern and were confiscated. The captain asked the Japanese something, but they could not understand English. The Japanese asked for food by putting their hands on their stomachs, pointing to their mouths, and bowing with their hands together.
The captain touched each one’s stomach and took a look around the galley. When he realized that they had no food or water, he took all eight Japanese on board his ship, assisting them by taking their hands and putting his arms around them. Personal belongings of the Japanese were also transferred. The rescuing ship was an American trading vessel, the Tabour, commanded by Captain Cornelius Sole. The Japanese had been rescued after being adrift in the Pacific for more than seventy days. Aboard the Tabour, the Japanese were served a large cup of tea with sugar.
It tasted so good that they asked for more, but the captain did not allow them to eat anything more on that day (remedy for starvation). On the following day, they were given two cups of sweetened tea followed by a serving of gruel. This was repeated for another three days. On the fifth day, when everyone gradually became well, they were served rice for breakfast and dinner and bread for lunch.
The bread, tasted by the Japanese for the first time, was described by Zenmatsu as similar to a Japanese confection called Higashiyama, which is shaped round like across section cut of thick daikon (radish). The Japanese had no words to express their gratitude and they were deeply touched by the kind treatment received from the foreigners.
On May 5 1806, the Tabour arrived in Hawaii and docked in Oahu after forty-five days of sailing following the rescue. Zenmatsu reported being rescued by a foreign ship at 4000 RI (9760 miles) from Hawaii and 1000 RI (2440 miles) from Japan. He also stated that the distance between Japan and Hawaii is 5000 RI (12.200 miles).
Zenmastu was considerably off in his distance estimation as the distance between Japan and Hawaii is 3800 miles. According to Zenmatsu, nearly five hundred men and women onlookers gathered around them when they disembarked from the ship.
They camped outdoors on the night of their arrival. Steamed potatoes (sweet potato or taro) were brought to them the following day. On the second day after their arrival, Zenmatsu reported, the building of a house for the Japanese was started, probably on orders of the chief. More than fifty persons were engaged in cutting trees from the mountains and building a house with a thatched roof. Only four days after their arrival, the house was completed, and the eight Japanese moved in. People brought Kalo (taro) and Uala (sweet potatoes) in gourd containers while the house was being constructed. A fence was built around the house when the Japanese moved in to prevent others from entering, and a cook was assigned to prepare meals for them. Two Hawaiian guards were assigned since so many onlookers were gathering around the fence trying to look into the house. To satisfy the onlookers’ curiosity, four Japanese in turn walked inside the fence and after a while, people started leaving, talking to each other. More and more onlookers arrived for almost two weeks, but their numbers gradually diminished to thirty to fifty a day.
The Japanese remained in Hawaii for more than three months until an American ship offered to take them home. When the trading ship Perseverance, commanded by Captain Amasa Delano, arrived in Hawaii, Delano learned that Captain Sole had left the Japanese under the care of King Kamehameha I until another ship could take them back to Japan via China. Capt Sole left one of the anchors from the Japanese wreck, forty axes, and some other articles to compensate for their living in Hawaii. Sole also left a note describing the Japanese for anyone who could take them back to Japan.
Thus, Delano offered to take them as far as China so that they could find their way back home on another ship inasmuch as only Dutch and Chinese ships were allowed to enter Nagasaki, the only port then open to foreigners.
On August 17, 1806, all eight Japanese left O’ahu with Delano aboard the Perseverance. Zenmatsu described the departure in personal terms: August 15, was a day for festivities for our home village shrine. Everyone felt so homesick, longing to return home. On that same day, an American trading ship, the Perseverance, about 2000 Goku (300 tons), with a crew of sixty-three, arrived in Hawaii for their provisions. Learning of our presence, they came to see us. Upon seeing a banner-like object that was left by the captain of the rescuing ship, and after talking among themselves, they urged us to board their ship.
Japanese Survivors Leave Oahu – 1806
The Hawaiians, old and young, who had become friendly to us during our stay, brought taro, sweet potatoes, beef, pork, and chicken to the ship and stayed around us, and one by one bade farewell to us. When the ship left Honolulu on August 17, about five hundred Hawaiians came out to the shore, waving their hands and shouting ‘goodbye’. They stayed to see us off until the ship was out of sight. We were so deeply touched that we all could not hold back our tears. About 2000 RI (4880 miles) of sailing away from Hawaii, the Americans pointed to the north saying ‘Japan! Japan!’ We became excited, purified ourselves, and bowed toward the direction of Japan. When we begged the Americans to take us to Japan, they indicated ‘no’ by gesturing with signs signifying that we would be beheaded.
The Perseverance arrived in Macao on October 17, 1806. On December 25, the Japanese were sent to Jakarta, Java, on a Chinese ship. They were in Jakarta for more than four months and apparently contracted malaria and other tropical diseases. Thus, only three of the original eight finally reached Nagasaki on June 17, 1807, onboard an American ship flying a Dutch flag. All others died in Jakarta or on the ship. Unfortunately, one more died soon after returning to Nagasaki, and another committed suicide during the official interrogation there. Zenmatsu was jailed and underwent severe interrogation by officials as he had violated the Sakoku edict, which prohibited Japanese subjects from leaving the country. Zenmatsu was kept in Nagasaki for five more months before being allowed to return to his village on November 29, 1807. Soon after his return, he was summoned by Lord Asano of Aki to report on his overseas experiences. He died six months after his return.
The King delegated the responsibility for the Japanese to Kalanimoku who had 50 men construct a house on May 6 for the Japanese. It took four days to build and a cook and two guards assigned to the house, which attracted crowds to these men of different ethnicity. On August 17, the Japanese left Hawaii aboard the Perseverance to Macau. From there they took a Chinese ship to Jakarta on December 25. In Jakarta, they fell ill and five died there or on the voyage to Nagasaki where they arrived on June 17 1807 and where another died. At the time of the Sakoku, it was illegal to leave Japan and the remaining two survivors were jailed and interrogated. One committed suicide and the remaining survivor Hirahara Zenmatsu eventually made it home November 29 1807 but was summoned by Asano Narikata, the Daimyō of Hiroshima, to recount his odyssey of an experience titled Iban Hyoryu Kikokuroku Zenmatsu. Hirahara Zenmatsu died six months later.
In 1866, Eugene Miller Van Reed, a Dutch American, went to Japan as a representative of the Hawaiian Kingdom. He failed to establish a formal Hawaii-Japan relationship but continued to stay there as a merchant and obtained the permission of Japanese emigration from the Edo Shogunate. As he started recruiting, the new Meiji Government that came into power in 1867, the first year of the Meiji period, nullified all the Edo Shogunate’s treaties. One of the reasons for the new government’s rejection is said to be the rumor that Van Reed was engaged in the slave trade. For example, Korekiyo Takahashi, whose study in the US was arranged by Van Reed, ended up being sold by the host family as a slave but managed to get back to Japan.
Van Reed, however, proceeded without the new government’s permission to send 153 Japanese to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. They sailed from Yokohama to Honolulu from May 17 to June 19, 1868, on the Scioto. This first official group of Japanese immigrants was called the Gannenmono (元年者), meaning the ‘people of the first year of the Meiji period’. (Note: the 150th anniversary of their arrival was celebrated in Hawaii in 2018.)
There were 142 men and 6 women in this initial group, so many of them married Hawaiians after they arrived in Hawaii. They worked on sugar plantations on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Lanai. Two or three months after arriving, many complained of contract violations since the working conditions and pay did not match with what they were promised. At least four of the six women and 50 men returned to Japan in 1870. Seven had passed away before their contracts ended.
Among the Gannenmono were several people who would become legends among the Japanese Americans in Hawaii: Tomitarō Makino from Miyagi, the leader of the group; the youngest Ichigorō Ishimura, 13 years old; Sentarō Ishii, a samurai from Okayama, who was 102 years old when he died in Maui; Tokujirō Toko Satō from Tokyo, who lived in the Waipio Valley with his Hawaiian wife, Clara; and Tarō Andō, who would become Japan’s first consul general to the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Between 1869 and 1885 Japan barred emigration to Hawaii in fear that Japanese laborers would be degrading to the reputation of the Japanese race, as had occurred with the Chinese according to the point of view of the Japanese government.
In 1881 King David Kalākaua visited Japan to strengthen relations between the two nations. Kalākaua offered not to request the extraterritoriality of Japan, an act that departed from the norm of western nations.
On March 10 Kalakaua met Meiji to propose a marriage between Princess Victoria Kaiulani and Prince Higashifushimi Yorihito. A few days later the proposal was denied, but the ban on immigration was eventually lifted in 1885 and the first 153 Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii on February 8, 1885, as contract laborers for the sugarcane and pineapple plantations. The political environment shifted with the onset of a new era known as the Hawaiian Revolutions. In 1887 the settlers ended absolute rule by the king by forcing him to accept the Bayonet Constitution and agreeing to the constitutional government with a powerful parliament. The new constitution gave voting rights only for Hawaiians, Americans, and Europeans, and thus denied rights for Japanese and other Asians. The Japanese commissioner worked to pressure the Kingdom to restore the rights of Japanese by amending the constitution.
In 1893 the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown, Tokyo responded by appointing Capt Tōgō Heihachirō to command the Japanese naval activities in Hawaii. The HIJMS Naniwa was sent immediately to Hawaii to rendezvous with the HIJMS Kongō which had been on a training mission. Capt Tōgō had previously been a guest of Kalākaua and returned to Hawaii to denounce the overthrow of Queen Lydia Liliʻuokalani, sister and successor to the late king and conduct ‘gunboat diplomacy’. Tōgō refused to salute the Provisional Government by not flying the flag of the Republic. He refused to recognize the new regime, encouraged the British ship, HMS Garnet, to do the same and protested the overthrow. The Japanese commissioner eventually stopped Tōgō from continuing his protest, believing it would undo his work at restoring rights to Japanese. Katō Kanji wrote in hindsight that he had regretted they had not protested harder and should have recruited the British in the protest. The continued presence of the Japanese Navy and Japan’s opposition to the overthrow led to a concern that Japan might use military force to restore Liliʻuokalani to her throne as a Japanese puppet. Anti-Japanese sentiment heightened. America’s annexation of Hawaii in 1898 extended the US territory into the Pacific and highlighted resulted from economic integration and the rise of the United States as a Pacific power. For most of the 1800s, leaders in Washington were concerned that Hawaii might become part of a European nation’s empire. During the 1830s, Britain and France forced Hawaii to accept treaties giving them economic privileges.
In 1842, Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent a letter to Hawaiian agents in Washington affirming US interests in Hawaii and opposing annexation by any other nation.
He also proposed to Great Britain and France that no nation should seek special privileges or engage in further colonization of the islands. In 1849, the United States and Hawaii concluded a treaty of friendship that served as the basis of official relations between the parties.
A key provisioning spot for American whaling ships, fertile ground for American protestant missionaries, and a new source of sugar cane production, Hawaii’s economy became increasingly integrated with the United States. An 1875 trade reciprocity treaty further linked the two countries and US sugar plantation owners from the United States came to dominate the economy and politics of the islands.
When Queen Lili’uokalani (left) moved to establish a stronger monarchy, Americans under the leadership of Sanford Ballard Dole (right) deposed her in 1893. The planters’ belief that a coup and annexation by the United States would remove the threat of a devastating tariff on their sugar also spurred them to action. The administration of President Benjamin Harrison encouraged the takeover and dispatched sailors from the USS Boston to the islands to surround the royal palace. The US minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens, worked closely with the new government and in 1894, he sent a delegation to Washington seeking annexation, but the new President, Grover Cleveland, opposed annexation and tried to restore the Queen.
Dole declared Hawaii an independent republic. Spurred by the nationalism aroused by the Spanish-American War, the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898 at the urging of President William McKinley. Hawaii was made a territory in 1900, and Dole became its first governor. Racial attitudes and party politics in the United States deferred statehood until a bipartisan compromise linked Hawaii’s status to Alaska, and both became states in 1959.
After April 30, 1900, all children born in Hawaii were American citizens at birth. (8 USC § 1405) Most of the Japanese children had dual citizenship after their parents registered them. The Japanese settlers set up the first Japanese schools in the United States. By 1920, 98% of all Japanese children in Hawaii attended Japanese schools. Statistics for 1934 showed 183 schools taught a total of 41.192 students. Today, Japanese schools in Hawaii operate as supplementary education (usually on Friday nights or Saturday mornings) which is on top of the compulsory education required by the state.
Today, where Nikkei is about one-fifth of the whole population, Japanese is a major language, spoken and studied by many of the state’s residents across ethnicities. It is taught in private Japanese-language schools as early as the second grade. As a courtesy to a large number of Japanese tourists (from Japan), Japanese subtexts are provided on place signs, public transportation, and civic facilities. The Hawaii media market has a few locally produced Japanese-language newspapers and magazines; however, these are on the verge of dying out, due to a lack of interest on the part of the local (Hawaii-born) Japanese population.
The importance of the Japanese immigration to Hawaii and the United States lies not in the fact that it did occur, but rather in how it occurred and in its consequences. Like many that came to America, the Japanese came for economic reasons. Unlike many Europeans, however, the bulk of the Japanese came to the United States not to escape the old country and settle in the new world, but rather with the intent to return home rich after a short period of contract labor, in what actually equated to indentured servitude. Many did not return and before long had established a solid and unique Japanese American culture, ‘one that often faced severe prejudice’.
This immigrant culture and its challenges molded the subsequent Nisei culture and the values of the men of the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. As far back as the thirteenth century, Hawaiian legend tells of Japanese fishermen lost at sea and carried by the Black Current, or Kuroshio, across the Pacific to the Hawaiian archipelago. Likewise, these easterly trans-Pacific currents possibly also carried shipwrecked survivors, much like the flotsam and jetsam of today, to the shores of North America, but with no more impact than the very same driftwood and debris brought by these currents.
The earliest recorded Japanese landings in North America occurred in 1610 and 1613, predating the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock by almost a decade. Some trekked from Acapulco to Mexico City, some ventured across Mexico and the Atlantic to Spain, while others settled in North America. Though Japs continued to arrive in Hawaii and America sporadically through the early nineteenth century, it was not until Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry’s Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854 and the restoration of the Japanese Emperor in 1868 that Japanese emigration began to have a noticeable impact on the United States.
What had been a trickle of Japanese traveling abroad turned into a flood of immigrants to Hawaii and the USA. The 153 persons of the Gannen Mono, the people of the first era of Emperor Meiji, arrived in Hawaii in June 1868 and another handful of Japanese arrived in San Francisco in May 1869, harbingers of the thousands to follow. Coming from varied backgrounds farmers unable to pay taxes, peasants pursuing dreams, now out-of-work samurai seeking new lives all sought quick fortunes on the plantations of Hawaii or in the businesses on the West Coast. In terms of business practices, Hawaiian and US businessmen were remarkably similar during the late 1800s and early 1900s, so much so that, fearing an overpopulation of Chinese immigrants, they had turned to import Japanese to work in the sugarcane and pineapple fields of Hawaii and assume odd jobs on the West Coast.
Ironically, the end result was that over the forty-plus years from 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion Act signaled a boom in the emigration of Japanese, to 1924, when the Japanese Exclusion Act ended Japanese immigration, over 180.000 Japanese arrived in Hawaii and over another 80.000 in the United States, eventually outnumbering the Chinese. Concerns began to rise over the Issei, or the first generation of Japanese abroad, the first Japanese immigrants. Not only was there a dramatic growth in another Asian population, but also the new menial laborers, willing to work longer and harder for less, were displacing white American workers. Too, the Jap’s situation was further aggravated by the uniqueness of the culture imported in whole by immigrants who expected to eventually return home. As contract terms expired, few Japanese had made their fortunes, and as more began to look upon Hawaii and the United States as their home, measures were taken against them. Alien land laws that prevented Japanese land ownership were passed in 1913 and 1920.
Note on Generations – Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians have special names for each of their generations in North America. These are formed by combining one of the Japanese numbers corresponding to the generation with the Japanese word for the generation (sei 世). The Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian communities have themselves distinguished their members with terms like Issei, Nisei, and Sansei which describe the first, second and third generation of immigrants. The fourth generation is called Yonsei (四世) and the fifth is called Gosei (五世). The Issei, Nisei and Sansei generations reflect distinctly different attitudes to authority, gender, involvement with non-Japanese, religious belief and practice, and other matters. The age when individuals faced the wartime evacuation and internment during World War II has been found to be the most significant factor that explains such variations in attitudes and behavior patterns.
The term Nikkei (日系) was coined by a multinational group of sociologists. It encompasses all of the world’s Japanese immigrants across generations. The collective memory of the Issei and older Nisei was an image of Meiji Japan from 1870 through 1911. Newer immigrants carry many different memories of more recent Japan. These differing attitudes, social values, and associations with Japan were often incompatible with each other. The significant differences in post-war experiences and opportunities did nothing to mitigate the gaps which separated generational perspectives. Issei were the generation of people born in Japan who later immigrated to another country; Nisei were the generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Australia, Hawaii, or any country outside Japan either to at least one Issei or one non-immigrant Japanese parent; Sansei were the generation of people born to at least one Nisei parent; Yonsei was the generation of people born to at least one Sansei parent; Gosei was the generation of people born to at least one Yonsei parent.
A 1922 Supreme Court Ruling prohibited Issei from becoming naturalized citizens and the 1924 Exclusion Act ended Japanese immigration. Even as late as 1940, efforts were undertaken in Senate hearings to prevent the enlistment of minorities in the armed forces, including blacks and Japanese Americans. Thus, the Issei, who had imported their culture in whole expecting to eventually return home, instead ended up creating a unique culture melding the American concepts of freedom and opportunity with such Japanese cultural mores as familial piety, loyalty, obligation and on a deep sense of gratitude and indebtedness, ganbare a never quit attitude, and haji an almost fatalistic drive to avoid shame and disgrace.
While their heritage set them apart from other Americans, it also united them as people by providing common ideals and values amidst growing anti-Japanese sentiment. Further tempered by the early events of World War II, these traits formed the bedrock of the character of the entire combat team. As the Nisei came of age and struggled to prove the loyalty of their people, the regiment’s shared values formed a solid base for the cohesion among the Nisei in uniform. This cohesion, along with the nearly unanimous goal of having to prove themselves and their people, gave great motivation to the men of the 100/442d RCT. As America readied for war in 1940, Nisei in uniform faced a precarious situation. In Hawaii, the Selective Service Act brought much-needed manpower to the defense of the islands, but over one-half of the 3000 inductees in the now-federalized Hawaii National Guard’s 298th and 299th Regiments were AJAs and a sizeable number also served in various Reserve Officer Training Corps: ROTC detachments.
By the time of the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, Nisei in uniformed service and registered with the selective service numbered in the thousands. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into WW-2, all persons of Japanese ancestry throughout the services were at once branded disloyal and given restricted duty, removed from active service, or reclassified by the selective service as IV-C, ineligible for military service due to ancestry. The University of Hawaii’s ROTC detachment, after initially being activated and called to supplement the active and reserve forces in defense of the Hawaiian Islands was soon disbanded, its Japanese American members discharged from service.
The 298th Regiment and the 299th Regiment were forced to release or, in many instances, even incarcerate its Nisei soldiers. As severe as was the treatment of the Nisei in uniform, the plight of the AJAs not in uniform was worse. Almost 400 Issei, Nisei, and Kibei AJAs educated in Japan were interned in Hawaii, and many more targeted for surveillance and, or investigation. Those in military-related, sensitive, or otherwise vital labor positions were placed under armed escort and were issued special black restricted identification badges – loosely reminiscent of the Star of David worn by Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. Eventually, 1444 Japanese, 979 aliens, and 525 other AJAs were interned in Hawaii, and another 981 were sent to mainland internment camps. Beyond the regulations targeting the Nisei, the most visible example of anti-Japanese frenzy following the attack on Pearl Harbor was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order (EO) 9066.
Signed on February 19, 1942, EO 9066 suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus, essentially stripped the Nisei of their Fifth Amendment right that no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, and incarcerated over 120.000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry in ten mainland relocation centers. Justified as a military necessity by Gen John L. DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command and head of security for the West Coast, this action ran contrary to the reports from an adviser, the FBI, and even the US Army counterespionage section in Hawaii. Yet, Gen DeWitt concluded that the AJA population posed a significant threat to the West Coast. Likewise, his claims that A Jap’s a Jap and an exact separation of the sheep from the goats was impossible personified Nisei persecution in the Mainland and exemplified the prejudicial challenges faced by the mainland AJAs.
Against this backdrop of discrimination, the concept of an all-Japanese American unit was born. The first unit began as AJAs in the 298th and the 299th Regiments were dispersed and reassigned to non-combat units. It was soon apparent that another option was needed as combat support and combat service support units soon filled to authorized strength.
Gen Delos C. Emmons, CO of the Army’s Hawaiian Department, then decided to group all AJA soldiers into a single unit. Army Chief of Staff Gen George C. Marshall, acting on these recommendations, authorized the formation of an over strength all-Nisei battalion to be transferred to the mainland at the earliest opportunity and trained as an infantry combat unit.
Thus was created the all Nisei Hawaii Provisional Battalion, a unit born not of lofty ideals but of the simple necessity to determine what to do with the Japanese Americans already in uniform.
The initial composition of the Hawaii Provisional Battalion when it left Hawaii for the mainland in June of 1942 was about 29 officers and 1300 enlisted men. Over 95% were sons of immigrants Nisei, 35% were dual citizens, and 2% were Kibei. At twenty-four years, the average age of the battalion was higher than the army average, but then so was the average of their Army intelligence scores, which at 103 was only seven points below the minimum required for entrance into the Officer Candidate School.
En route to its new training site at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, the battalion was officially re-designated the 100-IB (S). This was a distinctive unit designation in that the Army’s regimental designation system during the period designated battalions assigned to parent regiments consecutively as first, second and third. Since the Nisei unit was separate, without a parent unit, it was given the unique battalion designation of 100 or as the Hawaiians called it in their Pidgin English vernacular: One Puka Puka.
As the separate battalion adjusted to life in the mainland and the Midwest through late 1942, Army and political officials were still wrestling with the issue of what to do with the Nisei in the internment camps. The successful performance of the 100-ID-(S) could pave the way for the formation of a larger Japanese American unit. Reactions to the employment of AJAs in combat were mixed. The AJAs themselves were enthusiastic about any opportunity to prove their patriotism and loyalty. But upon hearing of the possible formation of a larger Nisei unit, the public outcry by individuals, as well as groups, was still high. Citizen’s groups, such as the Native Sons of the Golden West, or high-ranking officials like Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Senator John L. Rankin, opposed the enlistment of AJAs.
Ironically, what turned the tide for the formation of a larger Nisei regiment was propaganda. Imperial Japanese propaganda in Southeast Asia maintained that the war against Japan was a war based on racial discrimination and used Executive Order 9066 and the relocation camps as evidence. Elmer Davis, director of the Office of Wartime Information, brought this matter to President Roosevelt, arguing that the formation of an AJA unit would discredit the enemy and have great propaganda value in itself.
The propaganda value of the segregated regiment was dual purposed. In addition to discrediting enemy propaganda, the formation of an all AJA unit would serve as a sort of friendly propaganda to also prove the loyalty of the AJAs to the American people. When questioned by prospective volunteers about the logic behind the segregated unit, recruiters explained: If your strength were diffused through the Army of the United States as has already been done with many other Americans of your blood relatively little account would be taken of your action. You would be important only as manpower nothing more. But united and working together, you would become a symbol of something greater than your individual selves, and the effect would be felt both in the United States and abroad. All other Americans would long remember you for what you had done for the country, and you would be living reproach to those who have been prejudiced against you because of your Japanese blood.
With the argument out in the open, others weighed in to argue that the formation of an all-Nisei unit was good for the AJAs and for America. Proponents included Gen Delos C. Emmons, Gen George C. Marshall, and Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, who were astounded at the contributions of the Nisei Varsity Victory Volunteers to Hawaii’s defenses during a mid-1942 visit to the islands. Unencumbered by the racism of the West Coast or of the South as we shall see, and since most members of the separate battalion were former National Guardsmen with previous military training, the 100th Battalion’s training at Camp McCoy progressed rapidly, well beyond expectations.
Comments were highly positive from all corners. The 6th Service Command noted that the 100th Battalion was one of the best-trained outfits encamped in the Mid-West and visiting generals as well as observers were routinely impressed with the battalion’s proficiency with weapons and tactics. The proficiency of the 100th Battalion added immensely to the argument for the formation of the AJA regiment.
The matter was finally settled on January 22, 1943, when the War Department directed the formation of the AJA 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, the 232nd Engineer Combat Battalion, an Anti-Tank Company, a Cannon Company, and additional service and support units.
President Roosevelt endorsed the move saying: The proposal of the War Department to organize a combat team consisting of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent has my full approval. No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry. The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, 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. Every loyal American citizen should be given an opportunity to serve this country.
In January 1943, the 100th Battalion moved to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for the battalion and higher-level collective training. Shortly after, in February, recruiting began to fill the initial requirement for 4500 volunteers for the Nisei regiment. Reactions to the call were mixed. Hawaiian Nisei, or Buddha heads, were elated with the decision. They would finally have an opportunity to prove themselves. The Mainland Nisei, previously subjected to blatant racism and having suffered through the internment centers, had different views. Many were bitter and angry.
This was not the only source of disagreement between the two Nisei groups within the 442-RCT. The War Department had hoped to fill the 442-RCT’s initial call for Nisei volunteers with roughly 3500 from the mainland relocation centers and 1500 from Hawaii. The Mainland Nisei, feeling betrayed, were reluctant to volunteer; only about 1200 were recruited from the internment camps. In stark contrast, more than 10.000 volunteered from Hawaii, and 2600 were accepted during the initial call. This imbalance would also be a source for continued friction between the Mainland-born Kotonks and the Buddha heads from Hawaii.
Too, the Hawaiian Nisei, who were part of the largest ethnic group in the islands and had not known prejudice or racism, were generally gregarious and outgoing. But the Kotonks, raised as minorities in the mainland, were frequently more reserved and less outgoing than their counterparts from Hawaii.
The difference in attitudes between the jovial buddhaheads and mainland-born Kotonks caused minor scuffles between the two groups early on. Fights broke out during training at first but subsided as the men bonded under combat. Still, the terms Buddha head and Kotonk jokingly persisted throughout the war.
442nd Regimental Combat Team (Order of Battle) Hqs & Headquarter Company, 1st Battalion (Abel, Baker, Charlie, Dog), 2nd Battalion (Easy, Fox, George, How), 3rd Battalion (Item, King, Love, Mike), 100th Infantry Battalion, Field Artillery Battalion with Hqs & Headquarter Battery, Battery A, Battery B, Battery C, 1 Engineer Company, 1 Anti-Tank Company, 1 Cannon Company, 1 Service Company and 1 Medical Detachment.
Despite minor, mainly colloquial differences, the men bonded together and the Nisei’s proficiency continued to impress onlookers, including every unit to which the unit was attached. Still, the 100th Battalion and soon the 442nd Regiment were subject to prejudice, not only from GIs already stationed at Camp Shelby but from the surrounding southern populace who seemed confused and sometimes hostile towards the blur in the segregation between black and white caused by the brown-skinned Nisei.
In addition to the prejudice of other GIs and the locals, Army investigations continued to the extent that an inspector at Cp Shelby at one point was checking fingerprints on tableware! Another blow to the AJAs’ fight against racism was the loyalty test administered in the internment camps in the direction of Dillon S. Myer, director of the War Relocation Authority. While well-intentioned to simply determine the willingness of Mainland AJAs to serve in the military, the loyalty test instead provoked riots.
The Nisei were United States citizens by birth, but now, on top of being imprisoned by their own country, they were being asked to forswear allegiance to an enemy country to which they had never belonged. This slap in the face was enough to further hamper recruiting efforts in the relocation centers. No such test was administered to Hawaiian Nisei. While the 100-IB’s collective training continued, recruiting for the 442-RCT concluded and individual, or basic, training for the regiment began in May 1943 and lasted through October. Training for the 442nd progressed rapidly too, though not quite as rapidly as had the 100-IB’s, due primarily to the fact that the Battalion’s men had the more military experience to start with and were, generally, older and more mature than the 442nd’s complement.
442-RCT – Combat
While the regiment was still undergoing basic training, the call for deployment came for the 100-B. Departing Camp Shelby on August 11, it arrived in Oran, North Africa, on Sept 2 and moved on to Italy shortly thereafter.
Following basic training, the 442-RCT completed advanced unit training or Series D exercises by March 1944, and after successful inspection and review by Gen Marshall, the commander of the 442-RCT, Col Charles W. Pence, was directed to prepare the unit for overseas movement.
By the time the 442-RCT reached the battlefront, the 100th Battalion had been in the combat zone for almost nine months, attached to the 34th Infantry Division of Gen Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army. It received its baptism of fire at Salerno and fought at Cassino and Anzio. Despite a warm reception and an in-theater integration, familiarization, and training program hosted by the seasoned 34th Infantry Division, initial losses were extremely heavy. Suffering over 900 casualties out of its complement of 1300, the 100th Battalion earned the moniker: ‘Purple Heart Battalion’. Replacements were received from the 1/442-RCT still in training at Camp Shelby. Still, the AJAs of the 100th Battalion fought well.
Gen Mark W. Clark remarked: I should mention here that a bright spot in this period was the performance of the 100-B, which had recently been assigned to the 34-ID. This battalion was made up of Japanese-Americans and was to become one of the most valuable units in the US 5-A Except for several months in southern France, the 100-B fought magnificently throughout the Italian campaign.
It won the Presidential unit citation for the destruction of a German SS-Battalion on Mount Belvedere. These Nisei troops seem to be very conscious of the fact that they had an opportunity to prove the loyalty of many thousands of Americans of Japanese Ancestry and they willingly paid a high price to achieve that goal. I was proud to have them in the 5-A.
Following the 100-B’s participation in the Naples-Foggia Campaign from September 1943 to January 1944, which included action at Salerno, the Volturno River, Monte Cassino, and the Anzio Beachhead area, the regiment caught up with the 100-B and the 34-ID at Civitavecchia, Italy, on June 10 1944.
Upon arrival, the regiment, less the 1/442-RCT, was attached to the 34-ID and the 100-B was attached to the 442-RCT. The 100-B was not actually assigned to the 442-RCT until August 1944, and even then, due to its distinguished record, it was allowed to keep its distinctive numerical designation. The official title of the Japanese American outfit then became the 100/442-RTC. The remainder of the 1st Battalion remained at Camp Shelby as training cadre for more Nisei replacements.
The first action of the combined 100-B associated with the 442-RCT happened on June 26, 1944, at the battle of the Mount Belvedere. The regiment’s 2nd and 3rd Battalions led the attack but were soon pinned down. Before the 442-RCT’s first action became a rout, the veteran 100-B, initially tasked as the 34-ID reserve, took the lead from the less experienced 2nd and 3rd Battalions and captured the town with renewed vigor. As a tactical objective, Mount Belvedere had slowed the advance of the entire 34-ID. For this achievement, the battalion was awarded its first Presidential Unit Citation.
The combat team continued in the Rome-Arno Campaign through September 1944, fighting at Hill 140, Leghorn, and across the Arno River. Detached from the 100/442-RCT on August 15, 1944, the AT Company glider-landed in southern France during Operation Dragoon, foreshadowing the later move of the entire regiment into southern France Theater.
The 522-FAB was detached from the regiment to participate in the Central Europe Campaign, March to May 1945, where it was attached to no fewer than five divisions, including the 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division, and helped liberate the camps at Dachau. The regiment’s final campaigns were back in Italy, in the Northern Apennines Campaign from September 1944 to April 1945 and in the Po Valley, April to May 1945, where, less the 522-FAB, it was attached to the 92nd Infantry Division and played a crucial part in capturing Mount Folgorito, Mount Belvedere, Pariana, Mount Pizzacuto, Bologna, and helped shatter the western defenses of the Gothic Line.
It became the most highly decorated Army unit of its size, having earned seven Presidential Unit Citations, two Meritorious Unit Plaques, an Army Unit Commendation the equivalent of a DSC for the entire unit and over 18.000 individual awards for valor, including:
21 Medals of Honor; 52 Distinguished Service Crosses (DSC); 1 Distinguished Service Medal (DSM); 28 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Silver Star; 560 Silver Star Medals (SSM); 22 Legion of Merit Medals (LOM); 15 Soldier’s Medals (SM); 1500 Oak Leaf Clusters for the Bronze Star Medal; 4000 Bronze Star Medals (BSM); 12 (French) Croix de Guerre; 2 (French) Palms to the Croix de Guerre; 2 (Italian) Croce Al Merito Di Guerra; 2 (Italian) Medaglia Di Bronzo Al Valore Militaire; 1 Air Medal; 468 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Purple Heart and 9486 Purple Heart Medals (PH).
These US Soldiers, the Nisei or Buddah heads or even often nicknamed One Puka Puka, received also 26 Army Commendations as well as 87 Division Commendations.
Of these seven months, the deadliest, most demanding month was October 1944, the first full month in theater, spent attached to Gen John E. Dahlquist’s 36-ID in the Vosges Mountains. This was the defining moment for the Japanese American 100/442-RCT. It was the culminating point, both militarily and figuratively, in the existence of the unit and when it was over, the unit required dedicated recovery and reconstitution.
By the end of the month, the regiment had earned three more Presidential Unit Citations; liberated Bruyères, Belmont, and Biffontaine; and rescued the Lost Battalion, but at a cost of over 800 casualties. Like most rescues, the rescue of the Lost Battalion itself was not a planned operation, but an unforeseen development in the base operation, the 7-A’s advance through France and the VI Corps’ drive on St Dié following the 7-A’s landing on the French Riviera on August 15, 1944. Operation Dragoon had Gen Truscott’s VI Corps race through southern France to seize the Belfort Gap near the French-German-Swiss border.
By September 19, the 7-A had reached the Moselle River but was then slowed, like, Bradley’s 12-AG and Montgomery’s 21-AG to the north, by severe supply shortages and also by stiffening German resistance as they approached the German frontier. On September 29, the 7-A issued new orders, changing the easterly direction of attack to a northeasterly one headed for Strasbourg.
Before Strasbourg could be taken, however, the 7-A needed to breach the Vosges Mountains.
Severely restricted terrain and worsening weather aided the German’s defense. Where the 7-A had advanced over 350 miles from the riviera to the Moselle River in just under four weeks, advances in October were more accurately measured in yards. In the face of one Panzer, one Reserve, and four Infantry Divisions, the VI Corps needed to seize St Dié, the industrial center of the region, which controlled the mountain passes and straddled German defenses along the Meurthe River. To the 36-ID fell the task of seizing Bruyères, controlling one of the approaches to St Dié.
The 100/442-RCT arrived in France on September 30 and closed on the front lines by October 13. The regiment went into the line the following day and seized Bruyères on October 19 after bitter, often house-to-house, fighting. The 36-ID, with the 100/442-RCT attached, pressed on, in support of the 3-ID’s attack to seize St Dié. Biffontaine fell on October 23.
Although on the line for only ten days, the stress was unrelenting due to the continuous combat, wet and frigid weather, and the steep, densely wooded hills, factors totally unfamiliar to the Nisei, who had just come from the relatively warmer, more hospitable climes of summer in southern Italy.
The 2/442, came off the line and moved into Belmont for rest and recovery on October 23, followed by the 100/442 and 3/442 a day later. The respite was short-lived for as the Nisei combat team came off the line, the 141-IR (36-ID) was beginning its attack that would lead to the encirclement and the rescue of its lead battalion.
Early on October 23, the 141/36, began to advance eastward from Belmont through the Forêt Domaniale du Champ de Fen to assault German positions near La Houssière. The regiment advanced in a column along the ridgeline almost seven kilometers long, but not even two kilometers wide, directly towards La Houssière. The 1/141, in the lead, advanced quickly, creating a salient and outdistancing itself from the rest of the regiment.
Its Able and Baker Companies, as well as platoons from Charlie and Dog Companies, were soon cut off from the battalion headquarters as well as the rest of the regiment by elements of the German 16.Volksgrenadier-Division, the 716.Volksgrenadier-Division, the 933.Grenadier-Regiment, the 602.Schnellabteilung [Mobile Unit], the 201.Gebirgsjager-Bataillon, the 202.Gebirgsjager-Bataillon [Mountain], the 933.Infantry-Regiment (338.Infantry-Division), the 198.Fusilier-Battalion and the 285.Reserve-Battalion. The 1/141 attempted a breakout from the encirclement with no success. The Alamo Regiment’s 2nd and 3rd Battalions tempted to break through to their sister unit, also without success. The Lost Battalion’s 275 soldiers, 6000 meters behind enemy lines were now led by Lt Martin Higgins, voted into command by his peers in the perimeter.
With fewer than two days of recovery following the battles at Bruyères and Biffontaine, the 100/442 was ordered to rescue the Lost Battalion. The 2/442, relieved the 3/141, early on the morning of Wednesday, October 25, and immediately engaged a German infantry company reinforced with machine guns, heavy mortars, and self-propelled guns. On the evening of October 26, the 100/442 and the 3/442 were ordered into the operation for the next morning and both battalions moved out at 0400 with the maximum firepower available.
The 3/442 with an attached medium tank company, Dog 752-TDB, and a company 4.2′ Chemical Mortars, Charlie 83-CWB, the 100/442 with Baker 752-TDB, Dog 83-CWB and Charlie 636-TDB. The 422-RCT organic 522-FAB in support was reinforced by the 133-FAB.
The fighting was fierce, progress slow, and casualties heavy. The dense woods and craggy rugged terrain of steep hills provided excellent cover and concealment for the German defenses which were centered around machine gun emplacements and company-sized reinforced roadblocks on the few ragged logging trails in the area. Artillery fired into the high trees caused tree bursts that increased its lethality as fragments rained downward. Additionally, weather significantly impacted operations as the rains, snow, and mud signaled the onset of the worst winter in the region in forty years. The Lost Battalion’s situation was grim. Forced to defend an area less than 350 by 300 meters in size, it had only one radio, no food, and little ammunition. Water, while obtainable, was from a muddy hole that was also used by the Germans.
Resupply was impossible over land. Instead, artillery shells and aircraft drop tanks were loaded with emergency D rations, radio batteries, and medical supplies in an effort to resupply the Lost Battalion. These efforts met with mixed success as the shells buried themselves deep into the French hillsides and the P-47s initially missed their drop zones inside the small perimeter. Patrols from the surrounded unit had no success in contacting outside units; one thirty-six-man patrol was destroyed and another fifty-three-man patrol returned to the perimeter with only five men. The 100/442 and 3/442 attacked abreast to the east without letup through the thick forests, battling the frigid weather, as well as snipers, roadblocks, machine-gun nests, air bursts, mines, and booby traps.
By Friday, October 27, the two battalions of the 442-RCT were on the line heading slowly for the Lost Battalion under heavy clouds and freezing rain while the 2/141 and the 3/141, as well as the sister 143-IR, balked and remained static. The 2/141, to the north, attacked Hill 617 to secure the flank of the main effort to the south. The narrow, restricted terrain at this point along the main ridgeline leading to the Lost Battalion forced the 100/442 and 3/442 to converge and allowed only enough room for two companies to advance abreast. The 100th swung right, down the ridge in an attempt to outflank the German defenses, while the 3/442 moved forward along the ridge.
On October 28, after gaining 350 yards, it was stopped by another heavily defended roadblock, which required direct-fire tank support to reduce. As another freezing night fell, the 100/442 established defenses, unable to continue the attack in the pitch black of the deep forests. On Sunday, October 29, the Nisei renewed the attack. Gen Dahlquist continued to press the 100/442 to rescue the Lost Battalion at all costs. His presence at the 100th and the 442nd’s CPs throughout the crisis underscored the criticality of the situation.
Not only was the momentum of the 36-ID slowed now that it was in the Vosges, but he was also in danger of losing one of his battalions. Finally, overcome with anger and frustration, the Nisei of the 3/442, spontaneously fixed bayonets and in a classic bayonet charge which, together with a heavy artillery barrage, broke the German defenses of the 933.Infantry-Regiment (338.Infantry Division) and the 198.Fusilier-Battalion.
Early on October 30, the 211 survivors of the 1/141 were relieved. The cost was high. The 100/442 arrived in France on October 12 with 193 officers and 3313 men. By the end of the rescue on October 31, it had suffered over 800 casualties in two weeks of action through the seizure of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, then the rescue of the Lost Battalion, including 117 killed in action, 639 wounded in action, 40 missing in action, and 18 injured.
In contrast, the 36-ID started October with 730 officers and 12.785 soldiers and battle casualties for the division for the same month numbered 1785, including 218 killed in action, 1432 wounded, 154 missing, and 38 died of wounds. Most companies, usually about 200 strong, were down to between forty and fifty men. Still, following the rescue of the Lost Battalion, the 100/442 was directed to continue the attack. Finally pulled from the line on November 8 and 9, the regiment was at less than half strength.
Senator, then – Lt Daniel K. Inouye best describes their situation following the rescue of the Lost Battalion: when Gen Dahlquist called the regiment out for a retreat parade to commend us personally, he is reported to have said to the Commander Officer: Colonel, I asked that your entire regiment be present for this occasion. Where are the rest of your men? Col Charles W. Pence, as bone-weary as any dog face in the outfit, replied, Sir, you are looking at the entire regiment. Except for two men on guard duty at each company, this is all that is left of the 442-RCT. And there we were, cooks, medics, band, and a handful of riflemen, a ragged lot at rigid attention, without a single company at even half its normal strength. One had only 17 men and was commanded by a staff sergeant. My outfit, Easy Co, with a normal complement of 197 men, had exactly 40 soldiers able to march to the parade ground.
Gen Dahlquist looked at us for a long time. Twice he started to speak and choked on the overpowering feelings that took hold of him. And in the end, all he could manage was emotional: Thank you, men. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. And the saddest retreat parade in the history of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was over.
By mid-November, the combat team was reassigned to what would later be called the Champagne Campaign in and around Nice and the French Riviera. For four months replacements filled in and the wounded returned to duty, while the regiment patrolled the Alps and took advantage of the recreational opportunities offered by the region before heading back to Italy and the 5-A.
By the beginning of World War II, Americans of Japanese Ancestry could look back to the arrival of the Gannen Mono in Hawaii in 1868 upon a history that spanned over seventy years. At first hardly intertwined with American life, the contract laborers brought their customs to America whole and intact, fully expecting to return to their homeland. But as their prospects of returning to Japan faded, they quickly assimilated into American culture blending their strong family ties and feelings of obligation – on – with the American concepts of freedom and equality. This produced a uniquely Japanese American Culture that, regardless of geographical origin, bonded the Nisei together when anti-Japanese hysteria turned the country against them and instilled in them the drive and perseverance to face adversity.
The 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), composed first of Nisei in uniform, paved the way for the formation of the all-volunteer 442-RCT and preceded them into combat as part of Lt Gen Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army in Italy. The cohesion and dedication of the unit shined through as the Nisei battalion proved itself in the Italian Campaign.
The 442-RCT continued the exemplary record upon entering the theater, again showing the dedication and esprit of the Nisei soldiers. Thus, when the 100/442 was committed in the Vosges Mountains of France in the rescue of the Lost Battalion during the fall of 1944, Maj Gen John E. Dahlquist had at his disposal a well-trained, battle-seasoned, supremely cohesive unit that, quite literally, would not quit. It was employed rescuing a surrounded battalion, the result of an operation gone awry, in the face of determined enemy resistance defending in difficult, unforgiving terrain and harsh weather. Actions by the division and the regiment, its leaders and their men illustrate both good and bad examples of leadership and command during World War II, what today is termed battle command.
Therefore I say: Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory then will be total. (Sun Tzu, The Art of War) The first requirement of successful battle command is visualization. In the context of military operations, visualization encompasses seeing, understanding, and, most importantly, appreciating the situation surrounding the mission. It involves determining the mission, end state, and tasks to be accomplished.
It requires an accurate assessment of the enemy forces and capabilities involved, as well as an appreciation of the restrictions and limitations created by the terrain and weather in the region. It demands a frank and honest assessment of the capabilities and limitations of the friendly troops and forces available. It necessitates a realistic estimation and expectation of what can be done in the available time.
Visualization also requires that civil factors that affect and shape the operation be addressed to minimize the impact upon the local area and inhabitants. Once the situation and end state are understood and appreciated, battle command visualization employs the elements of operational design to design and develop a plan that achieves the desired end state. The envisaged plan addresses decisive points and objectives.
Actions are arranged simultaneously, sequentially, or both, with the limitations of operational reach buttressed by realistic limits of advance. If necessary, operational pauses are planned to prevent culmination. During the rescue of the Lost Battalion, visualization was haphazard and often less than thorough from the division down to the battalion level. This was primarily due to the unplanned nature of the operation, but also due to the command styles of the key leaders. This, in turn, made an arduous mission more difficult and increased the challenges encountered by the Nisei regiment in their operations in the forests of the French Vosges Mountains.
By late September 1944, the Allied advance through France slowed as combat units over-stretched logistical support and German resistance stiffened with the Allies approach to the Fatherland. In support of Lt Gen Patch’s goal to enter Germany prior to winter, Maj Gen Truscott’s VI Corps, consisting of the American 3-ID, 36-ID, and 45-ID, was tasked with breaching the Vosges Mountains and securing the Saales Pass running from St Dié to Strasbourg. The 36-ID, with the 100/442-RCT attached, was initially designated the main effort and advanced on this axis with the 45-ID supporting on its left (north) and the 3-ID Division in reserve.
By mid-October, the 3-ID had been brought out of reserve and assumed the main effort between the 45-ID and 36-ID for the push on St Diè. The 36-ID had seized Bruyères, but the advance slowed in the Vosges Mountains, a few miles past the town. In his bid to be the first into Germany, Maj Gen Dahlquist was anxious to breach the mountains and press forward.
On October 23, the 36-ID sent an ill-defined order to the 141-IR to send a patrol of company or battalion strength to work down a trail through the Forêt Domaniale du Champ de Fen to the high ground north of La Houssière. The regiment set out in column with its 1st Bn in lead and was soon heavily engaged. By the evening of the 24, elements of the 1st Bn were cut off from support, nearly a kilometer short of their objective, and dubbed by the press as the Lost Battalion.
By the time the 100/442-RCT was given the mission to relieve the Lost Battalion on October 25, the Texans had been cut off from their parent regiment for nearly thirty-six hours. Efforts by the battalion’s two sister units had proved futile. At the division level, the mission was clear: rescue the Lost Battalion. As part of the visualization, the commander determines the mission, focusing on identifying and specifying the tasks that must be accomplished, as well as the mission’s overarching purpose. The determination of the mission also specifies which units will accomplish the tasks, as well as where and when the operation is to take place.
Since these elements will be more thoroughly addressed through the remainder of the METT-TC (Mission; Enemy; Terrain & Weather; Troops; Time Available and Civilian Considerations) analysis, this discussion of the mission at hand focuses on the tasks and the purpose of the operation. Missions originate from orders from a higher command or are developed from ongoing operations. Missions that follow other missions or plans that follow the conclusion of a given mission are sequels. Branches are options built into the original base plan. Since the rescue originated neither as a planned outcome sequel nor as an anticipated option branch, it was a wholly new, though hastily defined, mission. Yet, although hastily developed, the task was unambiguous: the cutoff unit needed to be rescued. Less clear was the purpose behind this task.
Plainly, the relief of an isolated force is tactically necessary to minimize the loss of lives and preserve combat power, to maintain morale, and to maintain the momentum of the advance, but the Lost Battalion episode had additional and arguably less noble motivations. At the start, the Lost Battalion comprised only some 275 men commanded by a lieutenant; it was not a battalion, but only the size of a reinforced company. Additionally, the commander of the 1/141, Lt Col William Bird, as well as his staff, was not even located with the cut off the force.
Thus, the losses suffered by the 100/442-RCT through the six-day effort to rescue the trapped men raise the question as to the actual worth of the entire operation: was the relief of 211 men worth the culmination of an entire regiment?
Tactical considerations notwithstanding, the consensus among the veterans of the rescue is that Maj Gen Dahlquist needed to rescue the trapped battalion to save his career, the assumption being that the loss of one of his nine infantry battalions would surely have cost him his command and prevented him for reaching his eventual four-star rank. That Gen Dahlquist repeatedly ordered the Nisei regiment to effect the rescue -at all costs- adds a further element of doubt to the motivations behind this mission also, especially in light of the fact that the rest of the 141st Regiment sat idle during the fight. Still, regardless of the purpose and personal motivations behind the formulation of the mission, the task was clear and it stood: rescue the Lost Battalion.
To avoid encirclement and annihilation by the Allied 3-A and 7-A, Gen Heinrich Friedrich Wiese’s 19.Armee began Operation Herbstzeitlose [Meadow-Saffron] in mid-August to withdraw across France and establish defenses along the French-German border. By mid-October, the 36-ID encountered stiffening resistance in the High Vosges. It directly faced elements of Gen Wilhelm Richter’s 716.VGD, Gen Ernst Haeckel’s 16.VGD, Oberst Walter Rolin’s 933.GR, the 602.Schnellabteilung, the 201.Gebirgsjäger-Bn, the 202.Gebirgsjager-Bn and the 285.Reserve-Bn. German forces defending in this area of France also employed troops from the Légion des Volontaires Français (LVF Waffen SS); the Milice Française (French Pro-Vichy Militia); the Reich Security Police (SIPO-SD) and the 19.SS-Polizei-Regiment.
Prisoners taken by the 100/442-RCT during this period indicate that they were fighting against the 933.VGR, the 201.Gebirgsjäger-Bn, the 202.Gebirgsjäger-Bn, the 388.ID and the 198.Pioneer-Bn in their area of operations during the rescue. While the forces facing the 36-ID seem impressive, closer scrutiny reveals that the divisions were severely undermanned with the approximate strength of a regiment, or about 2000 men, and utilized significant amounts of less-capable older men and teen-aged boys, or Volksturm, to fill ranks depleted through the retreat across France.
To overcome these deficiencies in the face of the American VI Corps advance through the Vosges, Operation Dogface, the Germans bolstered their meager defenses with an additional 3000 reinforcements and established a defense in depth well integrated with the terrain. Plans were developed to utilize dedicated Kampfgruppen and fire brigades, as well as alarm units composed of rear-echelon support troops to counterattack any significant breakthroughs. In addition to the available typical infantry small arms, German armament included additional machine guns (twenty additional battalions to the Army Group), mortars, and larger assets, such as Nebelwerfer multiple rocket launchers, self-propelled artillery, and tanks. To further strengthen the defenses, vast quantities of mines and artillery were employed. Mines of all types, including Bouncing Betties and the difficult-to-detect, nonmetallic Schuh mine, were employed to great effect. Artillery fire was incessant, the effects of which were magnified by the tree bursts caused by the dense forest and tall trees. If the strength and quality of the forces facing the Allies and the 100/442-RCT in their efforts to relieve the Lost Battalion were less than intimidating, the Americans also had to face defenders fighting with the fervor inspired by decrees from higher command.
The first Fuehrer befehls, issued by Hitler as the Allies approached the German frontier, mandated that German forces hold at all costs. The enemy would be fighting to defend his homeland, with his back to the wall. A second decree later demanded a battle to the death to capture the Lost Battalion and prevent its rescue for morale and, undoubtedly, propaganda purposes.
By early October, this enemy situation at the start of the rescue by the 100/442-RCT was vague and, unfortunately, misinterpreted. This poor grasp of the enemy situation contributed directly to the predicament of the Lost Battalion and continued to hinder the Nisei in their efforts. Since the seizure of Bruyères on the 19, resistance had apparently lightened and the 36-ID was generally optimistic. Gen Dahlquist erroneously assumed that the German defenses were broken or were located at least another fourteen kilometers further to the east, as evidenced in his orders to the 141-IR: we’ve taken six hundred German prisoners in the past six days, not counting the number of men we have killed or wounded. We have either broken his line, or he has completed another one here – pointing to the Meurthe River. Gen Truscott is trying to make up his mind this morning about the attack. If we breakthrough, we will not have to fight terrain and enemy, we’ll just have to fight terrain.
His intelligence section mirrored his assessment and, without any mentionable reconnaissance efforts, told the 141-IR to expect only light to moderate resistance in their advance on October 23. This error contributed heavily to the 1/141 being cut off as its formation, advancing in a column along a single, narrow trail, easily lent itself to being enveloped. Additionally, further errors in judgment surfaced once the 100/442-RCT was committed as rates of advance were overestimated in the face of the mistaken assessment of the enemy’s strength and disposition.
These errors would have to be disproved through direct action and the intelligence gained through close-quarters combat, an action that would see Gen Dahlquist’s aide, Lt Wells Lewis, killed. Yet, even when the information was gained, it was often distrusted or written off by the division as the general openly questioned the integrity and judgment of his subordinates on the line.
Often, too, what little intelligence was known was not passed down to the troops on the line, although to many of the men, the intelligence information would have seemed superfluous anyway.
Thus, the enemy forces facing the 100/442-RCT in their task to aid the trapped battalion had been in retreat for over two months and had suffered massive losses. Unit strengths and capabilities were low but were soon bolstered by additional units and manpower.
While outnumbered, the Germans were motivated and had to their advantage a significant ally in the terrain of the Vosges Mountains. Still, faulty intelligence and an incorrect assessment of the enemy situation, based solely on the number of captured prisoners and unsupported by reconnaissance, were the overriding factors that magnified the problems faced by the 36-ID and the Nisei regiment. It was this poor visualization of the enemy situation that led to the predicament of the Lost Battalion and made the 100/442-RCT’s task more difficult.
Terrain and Weather
Terrain and weather for operation are usually assessed in terms of the factors of OAKOC (Observation and Fields of Fire, Avenues of Approach, Key Terrain, Obstacles and Movement, Cover and Concealment).
These factors are interrelated. For example, many of the conditions that limit observation and fields of fire may conversely enhance cover and concealment.
These same factors may also amplify obstacle effects and obstruct movement. In general, the terrain and weather in the Lost Battalion area of operation favored the defenders and proved to be serious hindrances to the Nisei.
The Vosges Mountains, separating Alsace from Lorraine in eastern France, run generally from the cities of Saverne and Strasbourg in the north to Belfort in the south and are the last natural barrier in this region before encountering the Rhine River and the German border.
As the 36-ID approached Germany, it was operating in the Epinal region and sought to seize the Saales Gap in support of the 3-ID’s attack on St Dié.
When the 1/141 began its advance on October 23, the Alamo Regiment had passed through the 100/442-RCT and begun operations in the Forêt Domaniale de Champ du Fen east of the town of Bruyères, about 10 kilometers southwest of St Dié.
The exact operational area of the 100/442-RCT and the Lost Battalion thus encompassed roughly 60 square kilometers, dominated by the Forêt Domaniale de Champ du Fen and the towns of Belmont, Biffontaine, and La Houssière. The entire region, heavily wooded, with steep mountains and ridges and few roads, combined with the miserable wet and cold weather to give a decided advantage to the Germans, who fought from well-prepared positions in a defense in depth well ahead of and along their main line of resistance at the Meurthe River Winter Line.
The region is mountainous, with the highest peaks in the Vosges reaching over 1400 meters. The terrain in the 100/442-RCT’s sector itself is rough and undulating, with peaks reaching almost 700 meters in elevation and with numerous steep ridges with between 45 and 60 percent slopes. The actual ridgeline along which most of the fighting occurred runs about seven kilometers from the west to the east and southeast and is characterized by numerous fingers and draws extending north and south of the primary ridgeline.
The forests, too, are forbidding. At the time, the primary industries in the region were forestry and logging, with the result that some areas were thick, managed forests while other areas were overgrown and jungle-like, with considerable underbrush. The few roads in the area were mostly on low ground and high-speed approaches were limited by the canalizing effect of the narrower streets in the numerous towns and villages strewn along with them. The forest itself had only a few firebreaks and one or two logging roads. Only a single trail ran the length of the single ridgeline from the units’ line of departure to the Lost Battalion and their objective.
Additionally, the early onset of the worst winter in forty years, which brought blustery winds, freezing temperatures, and steady, penetrating rain, turned the ground to mud and made conditions miserable for the soldiers and nearly impossible for vehicles. Taken together, these factors conspired with the Germans’ defenses to constitute a formidable obstacle, which was not thoroughly appreciated by the 36-ID or higher echelons, as evidenced by the demands of the VI Corps to press on and maintain the momentum of the September advance through southern France. In this area, the hilly terrain, heavy forests, and thick vegetation combined to limit observation and fields of fire, provide abundant concealment, restrict avenues of approach, and acted as a huge obstacle, drastically hindering movement.
Whereas the Nisei had been accustomed to the vast stretches of Italy that offered observation measured in kilometers, the dense foliage of the Vosges proved challenging, obscuring enemy positions until within only a few meters. As Colonel (retired) Young O. Kim, then-S3 for the 100-Bn, described it: The Vosges were Tommy gun country versus the M-1 country of Italy. The steep, rugged terrain and heavy forests severely limited the number of avenues of approach in the region in general, and in the 100/442-RCT’s area in particular. What roads and trails that did exist in the area soon became impassable either due to the incessant rain, the enemy’s strong points and roadblocks, or both.]
As mentioned in the 7-A: for six weeks, from Oct 1 to Nov 15, their advances might be more easily measured in yards than in miles indicative of the obstacle effect of the terrain and vegetation.]
The dense forests also had an adverse psychological factor on the men. The unknown enemy disposition and darkness created by the tall trees proved more intimidating than previous conditions and compounded the problems of advancing through these obstacles. Said another Nisei soldier: These forests would be garden spots for summer camping but they’re no place to fight a war. I would rather take Italy’s barren rocks than these damned trees where it’s never dry and the sun shines through only once a week. Where the little iron men of the 100/442-RCT once seemed without nerves and without fear, the cold and the unending shelling and tree bursts began inflicting shell shock and combat fatigue on a few of the Nisei.
Key terrain is defined as any locality, or area, the seizure or retention of which affords a marked advantage to either combatant. Inasmuch as the objective of the operation of both sides centered on the Lost Battalion, any terrain that directly influenced its rescue or destruction could be considered key.
The remnants of the 1/141 were isolated on high ground immediately north of La Houssière, and while no single terrain feature in the immediate vicinity offered a marked advantage to the German defenders or the Nisei rescuers, the very ground occupied by the Lost Battalion was key to its continued existence and eventual rescue. Had the Lost Battalion been located on less defensible terrain, it might have been easily overrun and the employment of the 100/442-RCT might well have been superfluous. Other than the location of the Lost Battalion itself, the ridge upon which the fighting occurred possesses no one location that offers any greater advantage to either side.
The art of war is subjected to many modifications by industrial and scientific progress. But one thing does not change, the heart of the man. In the last analysis, success in battle is a matter of morale. In all matters which pertain to an army, organization, discipline, and tactics, the human heart in the supreme moment of battle is the basic factor. It is rarely taken into account, and often strange errors are the result.
(Ardant du Picq, Battle Studies)
Once forces are engaged … winning comes from the courage and competence of our soldiers, the excellence of their training, the confidence in their equipment, the soundness of their doctrine, and above all, the quality of their leadership.
(General Eric K. Shinseki)
War is timeless. As long as men have ranged the face of the earth and have fought each other, and despite dramatic advances in weaponry, technology, and tactics, the very earliest recorded battles are comparable to present-day operations around the globe in the need for leadership and competent command. Whether undertaken with stone or sword, rifle and machine gun, or tank and helicopter, close combat require leaders to instill motivation and direction to the troops who will do the fighting. In this regard, lessons can be drawn from the past that still has relevance today.
442-RCT’s Rescue of the Lost Battalion
A Study in the Employment of Battle Command
A thesis presented to the Faculty of the US Army Command and General Staff College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree MASTER OF MILITARY ART AND SCIENCE Military History by NATHAN K. WATANABE, MAJ, USA B. S., U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado, 1988 Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 2002