But for Japanese-Americans, the days and months after Pearl Harbor must have seemed like a giant and painful step backward. Removed from their homes and placed in camps, these loyal Americans endured years of discomfort and disgrace. But out of this story of prejudice comes another story that reaffirms America’s worth and exceptionalism.
Today we honor the thousands of Japanese-Americans who served in the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service… most of whom were recruited during their internment.
Their baptism of fire began in the mountains of Italy when the 100th Battalion was attached to the Fifth Army. The overlooked Italian campaign was brutal; it cost the Allies 320,000 casualties between 1943 and 1945. In Italy, the 100th fought the rain and bitter cold; they fought sickness; they fought trench foot… all while fighting the Germans, uphill.
In November of 1943 the 100th joined the attack on the Germans’ ‘Winter Line.’ The Nisei soldiers quickly established a reputation as some of the best combat soldiers on the front. This reputation was sealed early on by men like Allan Ohata and Mikio Hasemoto. On November 29, 1943, they were attacked by 40 Germans. Things turned out very badly for those Germans: 38 were killed; one was wounded; one was captured.
Private Hasemoto gave his life later that day, but that ‘two-man army’ earned Medals of Honor for their extraordinary heroism. Their bravery and selfless dedication were reflected by all Nisei fighters, wherever they engaged the enemy. They fought hard for this nation and they held fast to their motto: Go For Broke!
“Together the 100th and 442nd became the most highly decorated outfit in U.S. Army history. They received more than 9,000 Purple Hearts. They earned thousands of Bronze and Silvers Stars. They earned 52 Distinguished Service Crosses and 21 Medals of Honor. They even won medals from the Italians and the French.
These units, plus the Nisei of the Military Intelligence Service distinguished themselves in every operation in nearly every theater of World War Two. On behalf of my colleagues and the American people, thank you for fighting to make this the greatest nation on earth; and God bless you all for defending our flag.