American Soldiers

Even as many of their families were incarcerated, more than 30,000 Japanese Americans volunteered for military service.

Most were members of the 100th Infantry Battalion from Hawaiʻi and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, segregated units that fought together in Europe. In some of the most grueling battles of the war, they became among the army’s most decorated units. More than six thousand other Japanese Americans served as translators and interpreters for the Military Intelligence Service. Japanese American women also served in the Women’s Army Corps. 

 

Color guards and color bearers of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, stand at attention, while citations are read near Bruyeres, France, where many of their comrades fell, 1944.
Musser, Signal Corps, Courtesy of National Archives

Japanese American soldier seated next to a poster of President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1943 speech supporting the War Dept. decision to allow loyal Japanese Americans to join the military, 1945
Hikaru Iwasaki, Courtesy of National Archives 

 

Kazuo Masuda was killed in action fighting with the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. He is seen here, around 1944, visiting his family in the Jerome camp in Arkansas.

 

At the outset of the war, most Japanese Americans were considered ineligible to serve in the U.S. military. Masaharu Saito received this notice from his local draft board informing him that he was classified 4C—an “alien” designation, despite his citizenship. By 1943, as the military struggled to fill quotas, Saito and other Japanese Americans were deemed eligible to serve.
The Army initially issued members of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team a racially insensitive insignia with a yellow hand wielding a bloody sword. They objected and designed a new insignia featuring a torch of liberty.

In 1944, the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat team was attached to the all-white 34th Infantry Division, known as the “red devils” or “red bulls.” After only a month of fighting together, members of the 34th recognized the Japanese American soldiers by inviting them to wear their insignia.

Originally, military officials were fearful that Japanese American soldiers might be mistaken for the enemy, so they were sent to the European theater. More than 6,000 Japanese Americans served as translators in the Military Intelligence Service and were sent all over the world.

Junwo “Jimmy” Yamashita wore this coat while serving as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

While held at the Poston camp in Arizona, Yasu Takei made this one-thousand-stitch sash to bestow good luck and protection to her son Jim Kuichi Takei, who was fighting with the 442nd in Europe.

Grant Ichikawa wore these dog tags. He volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service while his family was incarcerated at the Gila River camp in Arizona. 

Alice Tetsuko Kono, originally from Hawai’i, joined the Women’s Army Corps and served as a linguist in the Military Intelligence Service.

Alice Tetsuko Kono, around 1943

In 1943, after being held at the Jerome camp in Arizona, Joe Nishimoto volunteered to serve with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Killed in action in 1944, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The award was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 2000, after a review to identify service members who had been under-recognized because of prejudice.