JJ Vincent would like to tell you about an oft-forgotten part of WWII history: the service – and internment – of Japanese Americans.
You came to the United States as a young man. You worked hard, bought a house, raised a family, including a son who was about to go to college.
You were born in the US, went to school, played in the marching band, while your mother worked in a fish cannery and worked to improve her English.
And on February 17, 1942, a man you had never met gave an order that would result in you, your family, and almost everyone you knew being rounded up, put on buses, and driven to internment camps for indefinite detention.
On that date in 1942, Franking Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the military the right to designate “military areas” from which persons could be excluded and removed. This was done for “every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises and national defense utilities.”
In reality, it was used to remove over 110,000 people of Japanese heritage, primarily from the West Coast, and relocate them to camps spread across the country. Some of them were ineligible for citizenship, having immigrated from Japan. But many more were US citizens, guilty of nothing more than looking like “the enemy”.
From this sad and shameful period of American history came a remarkable group of soldiers, many of them part of the 442nd Regiment Combat Team. These American citizens of Japanese decent, many of whom had been taken from their homes, against their will, by the United States Government, volunteered to serve in the United States military.
They were considered “enemy aliens” and only allowed to serve in segregated Army units; the Navy and Marines wouldn’t allow them in their ranks.
Despite this, more than 20,000 Japanese-Americans fought in the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. They were the most highly decorated soldiers in U.S. Army history.
“Seventy years ago our Nisei soldiers entered World War II and overcame the dual challenges of prejudice at home and threats to our nation’s freedoms overseas with undaunted service and incredible feats of courage,” said Bob Kihune, retired U.S. Navy vice admiral and now chairman of the board at the USS Missouri Memorial Association. (Huffington Post, 11/11/13)
Their reasons for service were varied. Some did it out of pride, to show that they were as good as anyone else. Some did it to prove their loyalty to the only country they had ever known, to prove they were men and patriots. Below is a video from one of those veterans, Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii September 7, 1924 – December 17, 2012).
This year, these Nisei men are being honored at Pearl Harbor.
The USS Missouri Memorial Association’s annual Veterans Day sunset ceremony at Pearl Harbor will honor the 70th anniversary of the Nisei Veterans of World War II. Twenty-five Nisei veterans — octogenarians and older — will be among the 450 participants expected at the event.
“This year we decided to honor the Nisei as a focus, while still honoring all the veterans,” said Jackie McCormick, director of events at the USS Missouri Memorial Association.
Monday’s ceremony on the fantail of the Battleship Missouri will coincide with the opening of a new Nisei exhibit on board the ship, to honor their legacy.
These second-generation U.S.-born Japanese-Americans are soldiers who fought for the United States after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, despite U.S. government mistrust of them due to their ancestry. (Huffington Post 11/11/13)
Senator Inouye said that, “My only hope is that we learn something from that. Any experience, no matter how horrible it is, if we learn something from that and no repeat our mistakes, then it was worth while.”