Nisei Military Units
Nisei veterans rendering honors to their fallen comrades at an annual memorial service.
This section of the NVL website describes the military unit framework of the Nisei soldiers, the vast majority of whom served in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, and the 1399 Engineer Construction Battalion.
During World War II, Nisei or 2nd generation Japanese Americans served in the U.S. armed forces in significant numbers, despite having their loyalties questioned after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
While the popular notion is that the United States was caught completely unaware by the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, the reality was that America was preparing for war well in advance. With war clouds on the horizon and tensions with Japan escalating, the U.S. reinstituted the draft in November of 1940 and recognized the need to begin training Americans in the Japanese language to serve as translators and interpreters in the event of war.
Both of these developments affected Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJA). By 1940, many Nisei were of legal age, and were drafted, with some 5,000 having been inducted into the U.S. Army by the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Many of them were from Hawaii, where Nisei made up a substantial portion of the Hawaii National Guard's 298th and 299th Regiments.
The Military Intelligence Service Language School opened in San Francisco in November of 1941 with a class of sixty students — fifty-eight of whom were AJAs — taught by four Nisei instructors.
The 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd RCT fought in the European Theater of Operations against the Axis Powers and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) soldiers served in the Pacific Theater and the Occupation Forces in Japan after the war. The 1399 Engineer Construction Battalion completed training facilities and infrastructure projects for the U.S. military in Hawaii to support the Pacific campaign.
By the end of the war, the 442nd RCT and the 100th Infantry Battalion (prior to the 100th joining the 442nd RCT) received over 4,000 Purple Hearts, 8 Presidential Unit Citations, 559 Silver Stars, and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses among many other decorations. The 100th/442nd RCT is considered to be the most highly decorated unit in American military history for its size and length of combat service.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, only one member of 100th/442nd RCT received the Medal of Honor, America's highest military honor. However, in the 1990’s a review to investigate possible racial discrimination in the award designation process resulted in 20 additional Medals of Honor being awarded in 2000. Among the decorations received by the MIS are a Presidential Unit Citation, 5 Silver Stars, and 3 Distinguished Service Crosses.
Over 20,000 Japanese Americans served in the military during and immediately after World War II, about 18,000 in the 100th/442nd RCT and 6,000 as part of the MIS. Approximately eight hundred Japanese Americans were killed in action during WWII.
Many Nisei women also served during WWII as part of the Army Nurse Corps and Women’s Army Corps and made key contributions to the war effort. By all accounts, the Nisei soldiers of WWII displayed extraordinary courage and bravery in combat proving their loyalty to the United States beyond all doubt.
After discharge from military service, many Nisei veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill to get college educations and took on leadership roles in the community, dedicating themselves to lives of service to improve their communities and create a more equitable future for their children.