World War II has been over for 50 years now. Most veterans of that war, myself included, have long put the war behind them, their sacrifices and achievements dimmed by faltering memories and the passage of time. Few people remember, including some veterans, the names or numbers of the old outfits, their combat records and accomplishments, and the pride that soldiers and the country had in them.
Not so for the so-called “all Japanese-American” 442nd Infantry Regiment, the “most decorated” American unit of World War II. This regiment has been hailed—along with its accomplishments, medals, decorations, and awards—for a half-century now, doubtless making it the most recognizable regiment of the entire war. If asked to name a World War II unit, most schoolchildren in this country would probably name the 442nd, so ingrained in their minds is this hallowed group. It has been touted as the fiercest American fighting unit ever assembled. James Michener, in his novel Hawaii, has none other than Hitler himself shaking in his boots at the news that the 442nd has been lined up against his Panzer divisions. “Destroy the Japanese,” he has Hitler order, as if all other Allied troops in Europe were inconsequential. Even the congressional bill that awarded $20,000 tax-free to every Japanese-American who was interned or relocated during the war was designated “H.R. 442”; the reparations totaled some $1.2 billion. The politicians who supported this bill never failed to mention the “most decorated” status of the 442nd to justify their support of reparations.
The amount of propaganda about this unit circulated by the Japanese-American community and its supporters is truly astounding. Little known is the fact that the “442nd” absorbed the battle-scarred remains of the 100th Battalion from Hawaii, activated in 1942 and deployed to Europe in 1943. The 442nd did not even dock in Naples until May 1944, all of which is important to remember when digesting the award and casualty totals the Japanese-American community today claims for the “442nd.” Moreover, the 442nd was not an “all Japanese-American” combat force. Over 400 Caucasian Americans served alongside their Nisei comrades. Of its ten officers killed in action, eight were Caucasian, a fact that the Japanese community is still reluctant to acknowledge.
Nor have Japanese-American leaders been forthright in their representation of the internment issue, which, as stated above, is often viewed in light of the hallowed 442nd. Seldom discussed are the more than 15,000 German- and Italian-Americans who also were relocated and interned during the war. The politically correct argument is that the Euro-Americans were relocated and interned because they were a potential threat; the Japanese-Americans were relocated and interned because of “racism.” In fact, when the government wanted to close the relocation centers in December 1944—long before the war’s end—Japanese-American leaders both in and out of the relocation centers lobbied Washington not to close them. Among their many reasons: the evacuees’ lands had been leased for the duration of the war; some of the Japanese nationals were still not convinced that Japan would lose the war; and as Lillian Baker reported in her 1991 book The japanning of America: Redress & Reparations Demands by Japanese-Americans (“japanning” referring to the process of blackening fabric or metal; in this case, the varnishing of truth and the blackening of America’s honor), some of the Japanese “frankly never had it so good, being given three meals a day, a bed, medical attention, and no requirement to ‘work’ for any of this and [some of them] actually wept when the relocation centers were closed. This meant these men were going from non-labor back to stoop labor.”
Remember, all that the evacuees were required to do to be released from the relocation centers—and from the dances, dinners, concerts, parties, schools, and graduation ceremonies that the centers provided the children and their families at taxpayers’ expense, which Japanese-American lobbyists in the 1980’s described as “pain and hardship”—was to pledge allegiance to the United States and to resettle in one of the 44 available states not designated a military zone. Even Mas Odoi, president of the 442nd Memorial Association, admitted in testimony before a United States Senate hearing in 1984 that the evacuees were by no means “imprisoned” in “concentration camps,” that they were free to leave upon certifying their loyalty to this country, that the “majority of people that are active [in the redress and reparations movement] are the Sanseis and young Niseis who were not born or were small children at the time,” and that the Personal justice Denied report by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians is “very biased” and “decidedly pro-redress because the moderate voices [in the Japanese-American community] have been largely squelched.”
Controversy also remains over the number of personal decorations reportedly won by soldiers of the 442nd. An August 7, 1945, report by the 442nd itself put the total number of awards at 1,002. A May 1, 1946, report by the Infantry Journal Press of Washington, D.C., cited 3,915. In Max Herman’s 1974 book Japanese in America, the total was 5,969. In an April 1986 National Geographic article, the award count had climbed to 18,000. The Personal Justice Denied report put the total at 18,143, and this is the figure cited in Chester Tanaka’s 1974 book Go For Broke.
The number of Purple Hearts awarded the 442nd varies as well. Most accounts today cite a total of 9,486, but Captain Orville Shirley (one of the Caucasian soldiers of the 442nd) documented in a 1946 report by the Infantry Journal Press a total of 2,490, roughly the same number of Purple Hearts awarded each of the Marine Corps regiments participating in the Battle of Iwo Jima, which is astounding when one remembers that Iwo Jima was one of the Marines’ bloodiest battles. And again, what is rarely pointed out is that 724 of these Purple Hearts went to Caucasian members of the 442nd, not Nisei.
Moreover, this figure of 9,486 casualties confounds Shelby L. Stanton’s research in his exhaustive World War II: Order of Battle. Stanton lists the average regimental casualty totals of the three divisions the 442nd served with (the 34th, 36th, and 92nd) as 1000 per regiment. In other words, the 442nd today claims nine and a half times more casualties than the average of all other regiments in those three divisions. This revelation (long covered up because of racism? the high body counts the result of attempted genocide?) should be cause for a congressional investigation.
So, how did the number of medals increase from 1,002 in 1945, and from 3,915 in 1946, to 18,143, as is now claimed? And how did the casualtv count increase from 2,490 in 1946 to the current figure of 9,486? 1 tried to get answers to these questions by contacting the experts in this field: Harry Akuno, Chairman of the 442nd Association of Los Angeles; author Chester Tanaka; and Mas Odoi in Seattle—no response from any of them. I then posed these questions in a letter to Phil Coleman, Senior Librarian of the Japanese-American Library in Lomita, California. He replied: “Today, the U.S. is reconciling its awards of medals for Vietnam soldiers. We can factually say that more Vietnam War medals have been issued today, for a variety of reasons, than since the end of the war. That is true for the Nisei units during World War II. After reconciling the types and numbers of medals that were not issued (again for a variety of reasons), the number has correctly been adjusted upwards.” In real numbers, this means the 442nd Regiment has received 17,141 more medals since the end of the war (or 14,228 more medals if using the 1946, not 1945, figures), including an astounding 6,996 more Purple Hearts.
In a March 28, 1984, article in a Los Angeles newspaper, Mas Odoi explained that “my brother and I wrote the Congressional Medal of Honor citation for Pfc. Sadao Munerori after it had been rejected. Wc helped to win numerous awards for the heroes of the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regiment by laboring from morning until late at night for months.” If true, this lobbying method is a far cry from the time-honored procedure that requires a written recommendation for awards and medals from a superior officer who had witnessed the gallant deed.
The 442nd was indeed a crack outfit. But many WWII Army and Marine Corps regiments were crack outfits. For example, soldiers of the 30th Infantry Regiment earned 8,144 personal decorations, and to my knowledge this figure has not undergone a threefold increase since 1945. In other words, the old story about the 442nd being the “most decorated” unit of the war must be seen in the proper light. This claim reportedly came from General Mark Clark of the 5th Army, with the qualification “for its size and length of service.” Since the 442nd was only activated for about one year, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to track down another group of like size and time served to make a valid comparison, whatever the true figures are.
General Clark, in his 1950 book Calculated Risk, makes no mention of the 442nd at all, but he does briefly mention that the 100th Battalion earned 89 personal awards and decorations. Winston Churchill, in his six-volume The Second World War, never mentioned the Japanese-American unit. Nor did General Eisenhower in Crusade in Europe, or General Omar Bradley in A Soldier’s Story, and not a word about the unit is found in A Soldier’s Record by Field Marshal Kesselring of the German Army in Italy. Simply put, the reputation of the 442nd is largely a postwar phenomenon.
As for the seven Presidential Unit Citations awarded the 442nd, this is certainly impressive, and unprecedented. It is also well known that President Harry Truman was smitten with this unit. In addition to awarding it numerous decorations, he even held a White House reception for the entire regiment after the war, another unprecedented act. This old Army guy from World War I who had an ingrained dislike for marines—he denigrated them as “the Navy’s police force” whose “propaganda machine . . . is almost equal to Stalin’s” and tried to have the Corps disarmed and disbanded—even granted full presidential pardons to 267 Nisei draft dodgers.
Roger Daniels, in his 1971 book Concentration Camps USA: Japanese-Americans and World War II, gives an accurate account of how the military fawned upon the 442nd from the very start:
From the very beginning, the Army gave special treatment to the Japanese-American units. In May 1943 . . . due to a suggestion by Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, the 442nd was given its own band even though the normal Army T.O. [Table of Organization] did not authorize a band for a Regimental Combat Team. . . . Military honors of all kinds were showered upon the Nisei troops as they became the “most decorated” unit in the Army. Historians must insist that this particular accolade be largely meaningless.
There is also great controversy concerning those Nisei who served in the Pacific during the war. Known as “Nisei Language Personnel” or “Nisei Interpreters,” they later assumed the title “Nisei Military Intelligence” and claimed that because of their intelligence services the war was shortened by two years and a million American lives were saved. This accolade reportedly came from General Douglas MacArthur, or from his intelligence chief, General Willoughby. It was directed, however, at the true World War II Military Intelligence personnel, which the Nisei took to mean themselves. According to David Lownran—former Special Assistant to the Director of the National Security Agency, former intelligence officer, and renowned authority on World War II intelligence—”It is absolutely untrue that Japanese-Americans were involved in these [intelligence] activities. Rightly or wrongly, they were excluded from these operations throughout the Pacific War—because of security considerations.” Admiral Edwin Layton, Chief of Intelligence for the Pacific Fleet under admirals Kimmel and Nimitz, states in his book And I Was There that “the intelligence obtained from enemy radio traffic provided Admiral Nimitz with the tactical and strategic key to his Pacific campaign. Even General MacArthur was to concede that radio intelligence ‘saved us many thousands of lives and shortened the war by no less than two years.'” Admiral Layton was referring to Caucasian naval intelligence officers. He makes no mention at all of the work or services of Nisei or Japanese-Americans.
An artillery unit of the 442nd even claims to have liberated the concentration camp at Dachau. Governor John Waihee of Hawaii said point-blank in August 1991 that the Nisei 442nd was responsible for “liberating Dachau” and “ending the holocaust.” The fact is that I Company 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry of the 45th Division, was the unit that liberated Dachau; its lead scout was Pfc. John Degro, the first American to enter the camp. After the capture of more than 50 SS Nazi guards, the infantry dispensed food, clothing, and medical supplies to the camp’s prisoners—all of which occurred long before the arrival of supporting forces of the 7th Army, which the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, also a combined force of Caucasians and Japanese-Americans, had joined after being separated from the 442nd. Now, the 522nd may at some later time have entered Dachau as part of the 7th Army. But again, the 522nd—like the 442nd in general—was never an “all Japanese-American” unit. All of the officers at the 522nd’s Battalion Headquarters were Caucasian. Of 11 officers in the Headquarters Battery, eight were Caucasians. Of the 27 officers leading Batteries A, B, and C, only four were Japanese-Americans. As retired Colonel Howard A. Beuchner, author of Dachau and the first medical officer to enter the camp upon its liberation, concludes: “I am familiar with the claim that the Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team liberated the Dachau concentration camp. This claim is absolutely invalid. . . . This is erroneous information.” As erroneous as the claim made by a recent “documentary” that the “real” liberator was an all-black unit of the U.S. Army.
Retired Lt. Col. Homer R. Ankrum, author of The 34th Division, adds this:
The 442nd RCT surely had—and still has—an outstanding public relations and press capability. . . . I can’t even venture to guess how the 100th Battalion and 442nd awards could show such a variance over the years. If my memory serves me right, awards recommendations had to be substantiated within three years after the action for which the award was recommended. Everyone I interviewed had a high regard for the 100th Bn. . . . Some stated they felt the 100th had more awards approved due to the fact they were Japanese- Americans and the publicity was good for other Nisei back in the States.
The Nisei’s public-relations ventures have never ceased. They continue to push for a memorial to their wartime achievements—specifically, their names engraved on a wall of granite in downtown Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, a project for which the city government has generously offered tax money.
It is doubtful if many World War II veterans can recite the number of awards issued to his battalion or regiment; I know I cannot. I do not even remember the number of awards issued me. Most combat veterans have also long since abandoned whatever beefed-up tales they may have told of their war experiences to impress the ladies or to awe noncombatants. Is it not time the Nisei followed suit?