After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a suspicious U.S. government ordered 110,000 people of Japanese descent into internment camps. Yet when offered the chance to join the Army, many Japanese Americans jumped at the opportunity to prove their loyalty. Hundreds ended up in the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese American unit that saw some of the hardest fighting of World War II.
Perhaps their finest hour came in October 1944 in the Vosges Mountains of France, where the Germans had surrounded 211 U.S. soldiers, many of them Texans, on a ridgetop. “Medical supplies low, no rations for three days . . . need ammunition,” the desperate Americans radioed. News reports called the Texans the “Lost Battalion.” The 100th/442nd got orders to save them.
The men started into the hills in darkness so thick, each grasped the man ahead to keep from losing the way. As they climbed the steep, forested slopes, the Germans opened fire. “I had never seen men get cut down so fast, so furiously,” one GI remembered. They pushed forward a yard at a time.
Two days later, on October 29, the exhausted soldiers charged up the slope they dubbed “Suicide Hill” in a last effort to break the German line. “I didn’t think about dying,” a private later said. “I had a job to do.” On October 30 the men of the Lost Battalion saw Americans where Germans had been. The 100th/442nd had arrived.
The 100th/442nd became one of the most decorated units in U.S. Army history. Its members received 9,486 Purple Hearts for battle wounds. Its twenty-one Medal of Honor recipients included Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii. In 1959, when Inouye was told to “raise your right hand” to be sworn in as the first Japanese American member of Congress, a hushed awe came over the House of Representatives. Congressman, later Senator, Inouye had lost his right arm in service to America.