Hawaii’s Own Nisei Soldiers

Categorized as Hawaiian History

Japanese Americans in Hawaii Fight Valiantly for their Country

The recent visit to Hawaii by Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko provides a good time to remember the wonderful contributions of Hawaii’s Nisei Soldiers.

The story of the 442nd/100th began on February 1, 1943 when the US government formed the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, which was initially comprised of Nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Americans.
Having been previously barred from combat, the Nisei soldiers had formed the Varsity Victory Volunteers to do civilian work in support of the war effort.  Their great work led the War Department to form the all-Nisei combat unit called the 442nd.

The 442nd soldiers were volunteers from Hawaii and also from the US Mainland, and they were dedicated to proving their loyalty to the United States in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack.

In 1944 the 442nd joined with the 100th Infantry Regimental Combat Team and fought in Italy, then joined the invasion of southern France.  These heroic soldiers, mostly Nisei, suffered terrible losses in France and Germany, and yet they persevered in major battles.

The motto of the 442nd was “Go For Broke,” and they became known as the “Purple Heart Batallion” – more than 9,000 Purple Hearts were eventually awarded.

It was October, 1944 when they liberated Bruyeres in France from the Nazis, and in Biffontaine, the 442nd/100th lost half of their men, yet they completed the heroic rescue of 211 soldiers of the “Lost Battalion.”  Those 211 soldiers were trapped behind enemy lines, and out of ammunition and food, and this famous battle turned the tide of the war toward victory.

The valorous fighting of the 442nd/100th made them the United States’ most decorated military unit ever.

All of this brave fighting by Japanese-Americans took place in the shadow of the Pearl Harbor attack, which led the US government to discharge 5,000 Japanese-American soldiers and declare them non-draftable enemy aliens.

These Japanese-Americans in Hawaii wouldn’t give up trying to prove their loyalty despite the treatment they received – priest, principals, and business leaders, and many others were detained and interned at Sand Island beginning in Decmember of 1941.

Hawaii’s Japanese-American population at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack was about 100,000.  There were also about 35,000 first generation Japanese in Hawaii.  Determined to prove that they would fight for their country, America, the Nisei proved their valor many times over in the 442nd/100th.