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Boy Scouts at Granada War Relocation Center raising flag to half-mast during a Memorial Service for first six Nisei soldiers from this Center who were killed in action in Italy. The service was attended by 1500 Amache internees. -- August 5, 1944.

US government-produced film attempting to defend the massive internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. (Media from the Prelinger Archives

A soldier and his mother in Florin, Sacramento County, California

During the early years of World War II, Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from their homes in the Pacific coast states because military leaders and public opinion combined to fan unproven fears of sabotage. As the war progressed, many of the young Nisei, Japanese immigrants' children who were born with American citizenship, volunteered to serve in the United States military. Japanese Americans served in all the branches of the United States Armed Forces, including the United States Merchant Marines.[1]

Servicemen in the U.S. Army

The majority of Japanese Americans serving in the American armed forces during World War II enlisted in the army.

100th Infantry Battalion

The 100th Infantry Battalion was engaged in heavy action during the war taking part in multiple campaigns. The 100th was made up of Nisei who were originally members of the Hawaii National Guard. Their exemplary military record and the patriotism established by the Varsity Victory Volunteers paved the way for the creation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.[2]

442nd Regimental Combat Team

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was an all-Nisei U.S. Army regiment which served in Europe during World War II. The 442nd arrived in Europe after the 100th Infantry battalion had already established its reputation as a fighting unit. In time, the 442nd became, for its size and length of service, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.[2]

522nd Field Artillery Battalion

The all-Nisei 522nd Field Artillery Battalion was organized as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; but towards the end of the war, the 522nd became a roving battalion, shifting to whatever command most needed the unit.[3] The 522nd had the distinction of liberating survivors of the Dachau concentration camp system, from the Nazis on April 29, 1945.[2] Nisei scouts west of Munich near the small Bavarian town of Lager Lechfeld encountered some barracks encircled by barbed wire. Technician Fourth Grade Ichiro Imamura described it in his diary:

"I watched as one of the scouts used his carbine to shoot off the chain that held the prison gates shut .... They weren’t dead, as he had first thought. When the gates swung open, we got our first good look at the prisoners. Many of them were Jews. They were wearing striped prison suits and round caps. It was cold and the snow was two feet deep in some places. There were no German guards. The prisoners struggled to their feet .... They shuffled weakly out of the compound. They were like skeletons - all skin and bones ...."[3]

Holocaust historians have clarified the Nisei 522nd liberated about 3,000 prisoners at Kaufering IV Hurlach. Hurlach was one of 169 subordinate slave labor camps of Dachau. Dachau, like Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Ravensbrück, was surrounded by hundreds of sub-camps.[3]

Pierre Moulin in his recent book 'Dachau, Holocaust and US Samurais' writes that the first Nisei arrived at Dachau's gate not on April 29, the date of the liberation of the camp, but on April 28, 1945.[4]

Servicemen in the Army Air Force

Japanese Americans were generally forbidden to fight a combat role in the Pacific theatre; although no such limitations were placed on Americans of German or Italian ancestry who fought against the Axis Powers. Up to this point, the United States government has only been able to find records of five Japanese Americans who were members of the Air Corps during World War II, one of them being Kenje Ogata. There was at least one Nisei, U.S. Army Air Force Technical Sergeant Ben Kuroki, who participated initially in 35 missions as a dorsal turret gunner over Europe, followed by 28 bombing missions over mainland Japan and other locations in the Pacific Theater.[5]

Military Intelligence Service

Approximately 6,000 Japanese Americans served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), most of which were attached to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) as linguists and in other non-combatant roles, interpreting captured enemy documents and interrogating prisoners of war. The initial training facility to prepare for their function was at Camp Savage in Savage, Minnesota. This decision was to locate them in a region where there was less racial prejudice towards the Japanese as compared to the West Coast.

Japanese-American MIS linguists translated Japanese documents known as the "Z Plan", which contained Japan's counterattack strategy in the Central Pacific. This information led to Allied victories at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in which the Japanese lost most of their aircraft carrier planes, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. An MIS radio operator intercepted a message describing Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's flight plans, which led to P-38 Lightning fighter planes shooting down his plane over the Solomon Islands.


The nation's highest award for combat valor, the Medal of Honor, was conferred upon twenty-one members of the 100th Infantry battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of World War II. On October 5, 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, as well as the 6,000 Japanese Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service during the war.[6]


  1. James McIlwain (2012). "Nisei served in U.S. Army Air Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Merchant Marines during World War II". Japanese American Veterans Association. pp. 7. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Terminology and Glossary," Denshō, The Japanese American Legacy Project.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Go for Broke National Education Center: Central Europe Campaign, 522nd
  4. Moulin, Pierre (2007). Dachau, Holocaust and US Samurais - Nisei Soldiers first in Dachau. Authorhouse Editions. ISBN 978-1-4259-3801-7. 
  5. Yenne, Bill. (2007). Rising Sons: The Japanese-American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II, p. 140.
  6. Steffen, Jordan (October 6, 2010). "White House honors Japanese American WWII veterans".,0,7017069.story. 

Further reading

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