Nisei Legacy


“We are all grateful to you for everything you have done for our country. Because of your outstanding bravery, it shines a spotlight on the wrong that was done to Japanese Americans during World War II. And you know that has had a lasting impact on the country as a whole because it reminded us that this country is built not on a particular race or religion or ethnicity, but it is based on creed and ideals that you have all followed. And so you know that what you did was important not only to the world, but it was important to reshaping how America thinks about itself. For that we are very, very thankful.” 

— President Barack Obama, February 18, 2014, The White House, to Nisei Veterans


When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, mass hysteria erupted in America against all persons of Japanese ancestry. Nisei (American-born children of Japanese immigrants) were viewed as innately disloyal and were barred from enlisting in the armed forces. The 1,432 Nisei who were already in the US Army in Hawaii were placed in the 100th Infantry Battalion and shipped to Wisconsin for training and subsequently deployed to Italy for combat. Mike Masaoka, Executive Secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), encouraged the Nisei to petition the government to allow them to serve in combat to prove their loyalty. Masaoka believed a strong performance by the Nisei in combat was the best weapon to defeat racism and prejudice. In response to these petitions and the exemplary training record of the 100th, in early 1943 the US Army formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, consisting of 4,000 volunteers from Hawaii and the mainland, many from internment camps. Following their training, the 442nd arrived in Italy in June 1944. 

The 100th merged into the 442nd.  The 442nd was given tough assignments that other units failed to execute.  When the War ended the U.S. Army declared that the 442nd had the best combat performance record for its size and period of combat.  Their awards included seven Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor and over 4,000 Purple Heart Medals.  President Harry S. Truman’s review of the 442nd at the outer south lawn of The White House on July 15, 1946, confirmed Japanese American loyalty and placed Japanese Americans in America’s mainstream. The combat performance record of the 442nd and the segregated African American Tuskegee Airmen contributed to the post-war climate for reforms that leveled the playing fields for minorities to compete for any job and rank.

While over 10,000 Japanese Americans served in the 442nd, around 4,000 Nisei served in the Asia Pacific war zone fighting soldiers of their parents’ homeland. Trained in the Japanese language, these Military Intelligence Service members served as translators of captured documents, interrogators of prisoners of war, and monitors of enemy communications. They entered caves to persuade Japanese soldiers to surrender. They served in U.S. Special Forces working behind enemy lines to sabotage enemy operations.

They were in the first or second wave of nearly every infantry or marine invasion to provide tactical intelligence obtained from translating enemy documents and interrogating prisoners in real-time. They were vulnerable to being shot by the Japanese or the Americans. They served in every unit that needed a linguist, including the allied forces such as Australia and Great Britain. The intelligence information they passed to their unit commanders turned potential defeat into victories. Thanks to the Nisei, US military commanders knew so much of the enemy before engagement. Nisei received such combat awards as the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart medals. Following the war, Nisei served in the demobilization and occupation of Japan with a zeal to build a new Japan into an industrial giant.


On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that established two military zones, the West Coast of America and the Territory of Hawaiʻi each governed by a military governor with sweeping authority. On the Pacific coast of America, Military Governor Lt General John DeWitt used the order to incarcerate 110,000 ethnic Japanese–2/3 of them US citizens–in detention camps guarded by armed Army sentries. He discharged all Nisei from the Pacific military zone who were currently serving in the military. Most of them went home, helped their families pack, and entered the incarceration camps with them.

Lt General Delos C. Emmons, Military Governor of the Territory of Hawaii, who left Washington with orders to place all ethnic Japanese in internment camps on the mainland or on the island of Molokai and who faced a more immediate threat of land invasion by Japan, decided, after his arrival in Honolulu, that mass internment was not necessary. His military security chief and the FBI Bureau Director assured Emmons that 1,500 suspects had been arrested and the rest could be controlled under martial law. Emmons laid his rank and career on the line by stonewalling Washington DC, including the President, on the issue of internment, for two years until land invasion was no longer a threat.

Ten “relocation centers” housed Japanese Americans during the war years. They were hastily constructed and placed in remote, desolate locations: Manzanar and Tule Lake, California; Amache, Colorado; Minidoka, Idaho; Topaz, Utah; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas; and Gila River, Arizona. There were few amenities and the residents were very resourceful with what they had at hand. 

Photo: National Archives

Photo: National Archives

Photo: National Archives

Photo: National Archives

Photo: National Archives

Photo: National Archives

Military Service: The 100th Battalion and the 442nd 
Regimental Combat Team

In response to the Nisei petitions to Washington to allow them to serve in combat to prove their loyalty, the impressive training record of the 100th Battalion and for other reasons, Washington approved the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) in early 1943. The 442nd RCT was comprised of 4,000 Nisei volunteers from Hawaiʻi and the mainland United States –including men from internment camps. Following training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the 442nd RCT, with the motto Go For Broke, was shipped to Italy where the 100th had been fighting for the previous nine months. The 100th merged into the 442nd RCT and continued executing tough assignments successfully. When the war ended, the US Army declared that the 442nd RCT combat performance record was “unsurpassed” and that it was the most highly decorated unit for its size and period of combat. The 442nd RCT left over 650 Nisei on the battlefields of Italy and France.

Photos below, except Texas Governor proclamation to make 442nd veterans honorary citizens of Texas, are U.S. Army Signal Service photos obtained from the National Archives. They were given to JAVA in 2011 by the Go For Broke National Education Center for educational purposes:

Photo: The United States Army Center of Military History (CMH)


The U.S. Army commissioned military artist Charles McBarron to paint 20 most fiercely fought battles in US Army history. One scene McBarron selected was the October 1944 rescue of the 1st Bn, 141st Regiment, 36th (Texas) Division, by the 442nd RCT. The Texas battalion was encircled by superior German forces in the Vosges Forest in northeastern France and was doomed to be annihilated. After five days of bitter fighting, including hand-to-hand with fixed bayonets, 211 Texans walked out to freedom.

In the slightly over one month of combat in the Vosges, the 442nd sustained huge casualties. One company that started the rescue operation with 180 men had 16 men standing at the end of one battle, another company had 8 men standing. Five of the 7 Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations, 5 of the 21 Medals of Honor, and 9 of the 29 Distinguished Services crosses awarded to the 442nd illustrate the intensity of combat. The 442nd fought true to the Army dictum: don’t leave your buddy behind, save them at all costs. The enemy abandoned their fortress in the Vosges forests thus giving the 7th Army a clear shot for the invasion of the German homeland.

The 442nd RCT and the 100th were engaged in a series of tough battles including Monte Cassino and Anzio, but the rescue of the Texas Trapped Battalion stands out as the defining moment to affirm the loyalty of Japanese Americans to our country while their families were imprisoned in America.

Nisei in Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during WWII

The Military Intelligence Service was formed from approximately 4,000 Nisei linguists who volunteered to serve in the Asia Pacific War Zone as translators of documents, interrogators of Japanese prisoners, and communication monitors. They served in the first or second wave of nearly every Marine and Infantry invasion to collect and pass intelligence information to their commanders in real time. They entered caves to persuade Japanese soldiers to surrender. They risked being shot at when they took huge risks on the battlefront.

Many MIS members had studied in Japan and many had families living there. While their loyalty was questioned by Caucasian personnel until they got to know the Nisei, there was no case of desertion or any act of disloyalty. U.S. Navy Admiral Chester W. Nimitz said about the Nisei linguists: “Before World War II, I entertained some doubt as to the loyalty of American citizens of Japanese ancestry in the event of war with Japan. From my observations during World War II, I no longer have that doubt.” (Following the war, these Nisei served in the demobilization and occupation of Japan. Some Japanese people and soldiers viewed Nisei U.S. soldiers as “traitors”.)

Nisei Serving in the Army Air Corps and Other Branches of Service During WW II

Though the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marines Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Merchant Marines, and the U.S. Army Air Corps banned Nisei enlistments, Historian Dr. James T. McIlwain, Professor Emeritus of Brown University, has reported that 11 Nisei served in the Army Air Corps; two Nisei served in the 2nd Marine Division in Guadalcanal and Tarawa; and one Nisei served in Papua New Guinea as a combatant. Of the 11 serving in the Army Air Corps, nine Nisei served as gunners in bombers, one was an Army weather pilot in the United States, and another was an air observer for the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd RCT. The most famous gunner was Technical Sergeant Ben Kuroki. 14 Nisei served as intercept specialists on bombing missions in Asia. Two Nisei served in the U.S. Coast Guard and 19 in the U.S. Merchant Marines.

Ben Kuroki flew 30 bombing missions in Europe, including the Ploesti oil depot in Romania. Having completed his required number of missions, he returned for stateside duty. To avenge the death of two close friends in the Pacific War, Kuroki applied to fly B-29 bomber missions in Asia but was blocked because of a ban on Nisei flying there. When his requests through official channels were rejected, he sought the help of two members of the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco who sent letters to Secretary of War Stimson. Stimson wrote to Kuroki saying the exemption did not apply to him. Kuroki flew 28 missions in Asia, including many bombing raids over Japan. Kuroki said his 59th mission was to make speeches to defeat racism, discrimination and prejudice.

While the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) did not specifically include the above group, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye included them in his acceptance remarks at the CGM award ceremony at the U.S. Congress on November 2, 2011.

Nisei Women in the US Army

Approximately 200 Nisei women volunteered for the U.S. Army Nurses Corps, the Army Medical Corps (Doctors), and the Women Auxiliary Corps (WAC). Nisei women were integrated into white WAC units and served as typists and clerks in recruitment offices and in medical detachments.

About 40 Nisei WACs enrolled in the MIS Language School at Fort Snelling, MN. Following graduation three remained at the MISLS as instructors and 13 were deployed to Japan to serve in the MIS in the Occupation of Japan.

Nisei women who chose the U.S. Army Nurse Corps received six months medical training and were sent to serve at field hospitals in Europe where they treated wounded soldiers. Others joined the Nurses Cadet Corps. A few Nisei doctors joined the Army Medical Corps.

Like the Nisei men, Nisei women volunteered for military duty to prove their loyalty and to help America win the War.

Review of the 442nd RCT by President Harry S Truman

On July 15, 1946, President Harry S. Truman reviewed the 442nd RCT at the Ellipse, the outer south lawn of the White House, following its march down Constitution Avenue. That morning rained hard in Washington, DC, and an aide advised the President he should cancel his portion of the day’s event. Truman is said to have replied, “Hell no, for what these boys have done, I can stand a little rain”. He told the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, “You fought the enemy abroad and prejudice at home, and you won”. By his remarks, Truman confirmed Japanese American loyalty and placed them in America’s mainstream. This statement resonated across the land, supported by strong editorials, one of which won the Pulitzer Prize.

President Truman’s statement, in effect, removed the stigma of disloyalty placed on Japanese Americans in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the War Department when they incarcerated 110,000 people, two-thirds of them citizens, and declared military-age individuals to be aliens, unfit for military duty.

The following sequence of images gives us a sense of the glory heaped on the 442nd RCT when they returned to the United States.

Thirteen members of the 442nd RCT participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Corporal Kiyoshi Hotta of Wailuku, Maui, and PFC Raizo Okazaki of New York City, both of whose brothers were declared Missing in Action, are rendering the hand salute while the bugler is sounding taps. The 442ndRCT was in Washington, D.C., to be reviewed by President Truman on July 15, 1946. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Ft. Belvoir, VA. July 13, 1946: MAJ Claude D. Roscoe, a survivor of the trapped Texas Battalion which was rescued by the 442nd in October 1944 in the Vosges Forests of northeastern France, greets Tech Sgt Hiroshi Fujita of Sanger, CA, and Tech Sgt Mitsugi Tagawa of Chicago, IL. Roscoe is on assignment at Ft Belvoir. On the left is 1st Lt Thomas Kobayashi, 442nd Adjutant, and on the right is LTC Alfred A. Purcell, 442nd Commanding Officer. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. MacDonald of radio station WINX (center) interviews twin brothers Laverne (left) and Conrad (right) Kurihara on their 442nd experience. The interview lasted 15 minutes. Conrad and Laverne served as color guards in the parade and review by President Truman. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Washington, D.C. July 15, 1946: 442nd RCT marched down Constitution Avenue from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Ellipse where President Harry S. Truman reviewed the troops and presented the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation. In the photo to the right, President Harry Truman (left) and Secretary of War Patterson review the 442nd at the Ellipse. Seated in wheel chairs behind the President are 442nd wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Hospital, and behind them are reviewing officials, including Dillon S. Myer, former Director of the War Relocation Authority; Earl Finch, the one-man USO for Nisei; General Jacobs Devers, Commanding General of Army Ground Forces; LTG J. Lawton Collins, Chief of Public Information; MG Alfred M. Gruenther, Deputy Commandant, National War College; MG Charles L. Bolte, former commanding general of 34th Infantry Division; and MG John T. Dahlquist, former commanding General of 36th (Texas) Division. Photos: U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Ellipse, The White House: Lt Colonel Alfred A. Pursall (Crystal City, MO) Commanding Officer of the 442nd RCT, is standing between PFC Terry Kato (Honolulu, HI) (Colonel’s right) and PFC Wilson Makabe (Loomis, CA) (Colonel’s left). On Kato’s right is 1st Lt Howard Miyake (Honolulu, HI) and on Makabe’s left, PFC Tadao Ono (Honolulu, HI). Miyake and Ono served in the 100th Battalion. Kato and Makabe were patients at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps.

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Time Magazine reported the following (July 22, 1946): “Down Constitution Avenue this week marched one of the smartest, toughest fighting units the U.S. had ever sent to the battlefield. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team–all Nisei except for a sprinkling of officers–was home from the wars. On the rain-soaked Ellipse adjoining The White House, the wiry little solders, their crisp khaki crumpling to a soggy brown, stood rigidly at attention while President Truman fixed the Presidential Unit Citation to the regimental colors. For the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the war had been doubly hard. Its men had not only fought the Germans at their defensive best up the spine of Italy and in the Vosges; they had also fought prejudice at home. Yet the Niseis’ record was unexcelled. In 240 combat days, the original 3,000 men and 6,000 replacements collected eight unit citations, one Medal of Honor, 3600 Purple Hearts and a thousand other decorations. They lived up to their motto, “Go for Broke” *, no less than 650 of the Purple Hearts had to be sent to next of kin (many of them in relocation centers) because the soldiers were dead. The 442nd also set an unbeatable mark for soldierly behavior: no man in the outfit had ever deserted. As the regiment’s vanguard, 500 strong, was shipped back to the U.S., the men had no idea what sort of welcome they would get. Fellow-soldiers knew they had proved themselves the hardest way of all, but would the folks at home know–or care? New York gave part of the answer with harbor sirens and a reception committee of skimpily dressed wiggle dancers. Harry Truman and thousands of other civilians gave another part of the answer in Washington this week. As the fighting Nisei headed for their homes, they would get the answer to the rest of Combat Correspondent Terry Shimabukuro’s question: “Will we, as Japanese-Americans, come home to something we can call our own?”” (* Means “Shoot the Works” in Hawaiʻi, home of more than half of the 442nd’s men)

Congressional Gold Medal Awarded to 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Nisei in MIS

On November 2, 2011, the U.S. Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor this nation can bestow on the 100th Battalion, the 442nd RCT, and the Nisei who served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Over 300 veterans of the 100th, the 442nd, and MIS from across the land, many in wheelchairs and some of them with oxygen tanks, received the honor at the U.S. Capitol Building, Emancipation Hall. Eight members of Congress, led by former Speaker John Boehner, paid high tribute to the military role played by Nisei during WW II. National press coverage, including TV, was extensive.

Observing President Barack Obama sign the Nisei Congressional Gold Medal Bill into law on October 5, 2010, are (L-R) Osamu Fujikawa, Grant Ichikawa, Lynn Kanaya, Jimmie Kanaya, Floyd Mori, behind Mori is Christine Sato Yamazaki, Terry Shima, Kelly Kuwayama, Congressman Adam Schiff, Senator Daniel Inouye, Congressman Bob Filner, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, Congressman Djou, Congressman Michael Honda, and Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Source: White House photo.

Highlights of the three-day program included the U.S. Congress presentation of the CGM at the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Army Tribute to the 100th, 442nd RCT, and MIS, laying of wreaths at the National World War II Memorial, a gala dinner, and a program at the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, where the names of over 800 Nisei who died in line of duty are inscribed on a granite wall. The inclusion of MIS and arrangements of these events were made by the National Veterans Network (NVN), an association of Nisei organizations and supporters headed by Christine Sato-Yamazaki. Lieutenant General Joseph F. Peterson and Major General Antonio M. Taguba served as principal liaison with the U.S. Army. VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki’s remarks at the CGM Gala Dinner can be read here.

Photo: U.S. Army
Photo: U.S. Army

The Legacy of the WWII Nisei

Source: U.S. Department of Defense
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Other Contributors to the Greatness of America

Japanese American Veterans at the White House

Photo: National Archives

September 11, 1945: Kelly Kuwayama handing President Harry Truman a check representing donations from men of the 442nd for a Franklin Roosevelt Memorial. On the left is Earl Finch, a strong supporter of the 442nd and second from the left is George M. Tsujimoto.

Photo: Terry Miyamura

On October 27, 1953, Hershey Miyamura of Gallup, New Mexico, was invited to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from President Dwight Eisenhower. Hershey joined the 442nd RCT as a replacement five days after Germany surrendered. He returned with the 442nd which was reviewed by President Truman on July 15, 1946, near the White house. He was recalled to active duty for the Korean War and served in Korea where he was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry over and beyond the call of duty.

Nisei Veterans of the 100th/442nd RCT and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) have received the recognitions noted below: