The war immediately raised the loyalty question of Hawai’i’s 160,000 ethnic Japanese Americans, one-third of the population. After the attack, 1,400 suspects were arrested and interned in camps, but sheer logistics prevented the mass relocation that was imposed on mainland Japanese. When three hundred Territorial Guardsmen of Japanese ancestry were dismissed from service, half of them joined the Varsity Victory Volunteers. While 1,500 National Guardsmen continued to serve under constant scrutiny, no more Japanese-Americans were allowed to enlist.
Proving Their Loyalty
By May 1942, after demonstrating loyalty and enthusiasm, many of these Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJAs) were organized into the Hawaiian Provisional Battalion and sent to the mainland for training. At Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, on June 12th, the unit was officially designated the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). The battalion’s exemplary performance in training convinced the War Department to recruit more AJAs.
Transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi in January 1943, the battalion watched the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Teams from Hawai’i and the mainland. Over 10,000 AJAs volunteered for fewer than 3000 spaces in the new unit.
Some Hawaiian AJAs also served at home. The 1399th Engineer Battalion was locally recruited to meet the heavy demands for military construction projects on O’ahu. Belaying their adopted nickname, the Chow Hounds, these soldiers labored with skill and enthusiasm to complete all their assigned projects.
“Go For Broke” in Europe
Because the Hawai’i’s Japanese American soldiers faced great prejudice and distrust, they felt compelled to fight all the harder to prove their loyalty. The 100th Battalion went into combat near Salerno, Italy, September 1943. Nine months later, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team joined them. They fought together as a unit and were known by their slogan, “Go for Broke.”
Japanese Americans suffered extremely high casualties throughout the war. They earned the nickname the “Purple Heart” outfit, receiving 9,486 of this award during seven major campaigns in Europe. The men of the 100th Infantry battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team won one Congressional Medal of Honor (more were to come later) and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, as well as 4,560 Silver and Bronze Stars.
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