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Davis Journal

Service under scrutiny – the 442nd Infantry Regiment

May 09, 2024 12:59PM ● By Braden Nelsen
Sam Yoshihana, Chicago, Ill., leads a bunch of German prisoners taken by the 100th Bn., 442nd IR, through the village of Valecchia to a PW cage. 8 April 1945. Public Domain Image.

Sam Yoshihana, Chicago, Ill., leads a bunch of German prisoners taken by the 100th Bn., 442nd IR, through the village of Valecchia to a PW cage. 8 April 1945. Public Domain Image.

DAVIS COUNTY—For those who served in the 442nd Infantry Regiment in World War II, there were familiar images of leaving home: bidding goodbye to mother and father, shaking hands, hugging, and tears, as they hefted a duffel over their shoulder and left for war. What was unique to their situation, however, is that many left a home that wasn’t their own, and waved goodbye to their family from the opposite side of a barbed wire fence.

At the start of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, it’s imperative to remember the sacrifices of so many, especially in the face of such harsh discrimination, such sacrifice which earned the 442nd the distinction of the most decorated unit in the war. The uphill climb for many of those of the 442nd began shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 by the Empire of Japan. 

Following the attack, confusion, fear, paranoia, and anger swept the nation. The United States was facing an enemy that utilized modern technology, with an almost medieval mindset in their devotion to the emperor, and emphasis on honor and dishonor. It was something that the majority of Americans, including President Roosevelt, didn’t understand, and with that misunderstanding, came fear, and prejudice. 

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, in February of 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed for the forcible internment of “all persons deemed a threat to national security” from the West Coast. Though the order used general language, and some people of German or Italian descent were interred, the vast majority were of Japanese descent. Before the end of the war, 125,000 people would be taken from their homes and businesses and put behind barbed wire fences in hastily built internment camps.

Many first-generation Japanese-Americans, or Nisei, felt the urge to serve in the Armed Forces and prove that, despite what their government thought, they were loyal to the United States. In 1943, an entire Nisei regiment was organized, and the 442nd Infantry Regiment began their service. It wasn’t long before their motto “Go for Broke” and their nickname of the “Purple Heart Regiment” proved to their fellow servicemen, these weren’t halfhearted draftees or enlistees: they had something to prove.

Among the thousands that served in the 442nd, there were more than a few from Utah, including Toe and John Sueo Nakaishi, and Kozo Yamane from Davis County. As mentioned above, the intense combat seen, and outstanding service rendered by the men of the 442nd earned them the title of the most decorated unit in the war. All told, by 1945, the men of the 442nd had earned 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 371 Silver Stars, 22 Legion of Merit medals, 15 Soldier’s medals, 4,000 Bronze Stars, over 4,000 Purple Hearts, and more.

Despite the prejudice that prevailed, the 442nd, including those from Davis, and around the state showed outstanding courage, and conviction in fighting against fascism. The legacy of the 442nd is just one of the many aspects of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month that can and should be celebrated and commemorated, especially as Memorial Day approaches as well.