Nisei Veterans of World War II: Photo Essay and Resource List

“No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry….Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote these words on February 3, 1943, just one year after he signed Executive Order 9066. Even though their families were unjustly incarcerated precisely because of their “race and ancestry,” thousands of young Nisei joined the U.S. Army between 1940 and 1945. 

Much decorated for their valor and often cited as being part of the most decorated unit in World War II for its size and length of service, Japanese Americans served in the U.S. armed forces in disproportionate numbers. While many served in combat units, others served as translators and interpreters in the Military Intelligence Service. In less than two years, one of their best known units—the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team—compiled an astonishing combat record. But this segregated unit, which was almost entirely comprised of Japanese Americans, suffered an equally remarkable number with about 800 men killed or missing in action. Because of the unique role they played during and after the war, Japanese American war veterans continue to play an influential role in the community. (Read more: Japanese Americans in military during World War II)

During World War II, many second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) women wore U.S. military uniforms. Nisei women contributed to U.S. war efforts in various ways, including as army personnel, military nurses and doctors, and Military Intelligence Service linguists. The history of Nisei women in the U.S. military began when the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) started to accept women of Japanese descent in 1943. The backgrounds, experiences, and struggles of Nisei women who served in these corps have just started to be revealed in the last couple of decades by scholars. (Read more: Japanese American women in military)

Photographs from the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army collection and other archives give us a sense of daily life for the Japanese American men and women who served in World War II. (Scroll all the way down for our recommended books and films on this subject.)

ddr-densho-114-1-mezzanine-9feeae41c0-a-1

Original caption: Japanese-American troops climb into a truck as they prepare to move their bivouac area. 2nd Battalion, 442nd Combat Team, Chambois Sector, France. October 14, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-169-mezzanine-04d3af34f9-a

Basic training at Camp Shelby. Nisei soldiers throwing fragmentation grenades. Camp Shelby, Mississippi. 1943. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

en-denshopd-i231-00002-1

Squadron of Nisei Women’s Army Corps (WACs), c. 1941-1945. Courtesy of Japanese American Archival Collection, California State University, Sacramento.

ddr-densho-114-57-mezzanine-5acc2d309d-a

Original caption: Japanese-American Chaplain. This newly-commissioned U.S. Army Chaplain is Lieut. Hiro Higuchi, a native of Hawaii, of Japanese parentage. He is now in training at Harvard, and is the second chaplain of Japanese ancestry to receive a commission in the U.S. Army Chaplains Corps. Higuchi is 36, married, and has a seven year old son. He has attended Oberlin College and the Universities of Hawaii and California. He represents the Congregational Christian Communion, 1943. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-6-mezzanine-e26665a841-a-1

Original caption: With the wreckage of Bighorn in the background, Lieut. Gen. Mark W. Clark, C. G., Fifth Army, and Sec. of the Navy James V. Forrestal inspect troops from the 100th Infantry Battalion composed of Americans of Japanese descent. The troops were present as a guard of honor for the Secretary, Italy. August 9, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-163-mezzanine-6ec78b0000-a

Original caption: Two Color guards and color bearers of the Japanese-American 442nd Combat Team, stand at attention while their citations are read. They are standing on ground, in the Bruyeres Area, France, where many of their comrades fell. November 12, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-77-mezzanine-dc613c74b0-a

Original caption: Lecco, Italy. Pfc. George Morihiro, Company “I”, 442nd Infantry Regiment, adopted a little orphan, one of the group from the St. Joseph’s Orphanage that attended the 4th of July Party at the Red Cross given by members of the 442nd Regiment, for the evening and made sure that she had plenty of sweets to eat. July 4, 1945. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-112-mezzanine-73f0907a08-a

Original caption: Tommy Teraji of Los Angeles, Co. A of the 62nd Inf. Trng. Bn. is being thrown by Akira F. Shibukawa, Seattle, Washington, Co. A of the 62nd Inf. Trng. Bn., who is very well-trained in jujitsu. Camp Robsinson, Arkansas. February 19, 1942. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-160-100-mezzanine-6bd876f595-a-1

WAC volunteer, Granada (Amache) concentration camp, Colorado, c. 1942-1945.  Courtesy of the James G. Lindley Collection.

ddr-densho-114-20-mezzanine-18a192bfa0-a

Original caption: Charmois Area, France. Americans of Japanese descent of the 442nd Combat Team, 100th Inf. Bn., in bivouac prepare to go into the front lines for their first contact with the Germans in France. Here Pfc. Billy S. Takaezu, 1254 Hall St., Honolulu, hangs out his laundry to dry. U.S. Seventh Army. October 12, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-37-mezzanine-5d57d05045-a

Original caption: Charmois Area, France. Americans of Japanese descent of the 442nd Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, in bivouac prepare to go late front lines for their first contact with the Germans in France. Tec 5 Teroo Goma, Honokaa, Hawaii; Pvt. Nolan Miyazake, Wailua, Oahu, Hawaii; and Pvt. Kunio Ogawa, Kahului, Maue, Hawaii, write letters and read. Seventh Army. October 12, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-29-mezzanine-d3c1ac4ccf-a

Original caption: S. Agata Di Goti, Italy. 2nd Lt. Hideo Kaichi, 2nd Lt. Yutaka K. Yoshida, and 2nd Lt. Bouo F. Tanigawa, all from the Hawaiian Islands and veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, just after they received their bars after completing the twelve-week course at the Leadership and Battle School. July 14, 1945. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

en-denshopd-i226-00015-1

Private Shizuko Shinagawa, 21, of the Women’s Army Corps, who was sent to Denver to recruit Japanese-American women for the WAC. May 22, 1944, Denver, Colorado. Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

ddr-densho-114-75-mezzanine-d371026e3b-a-1

Cardone, Italy. Pfc. Tom Masanori, Santa Cruz, Calif., 442nd Japanese-American Combat Team, sings “God Bless America,” during Salerno Day Ceremony, the day that the Fifth Army becomes inoperational in the MTO, after two years of operations which ended in victory. Fifth Army. September 9, 1945. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-85-mezzanine-4a740fdef1-a-1

Original caption: Cecina Area, Italy. Bugler Pfc. Charles Kimura of Honolulu, T.H., plays taps as the rifle squad stands at “present arms,” after firing salute to the 72 members of the 2nd Bn., 442nd Inf. Regt., honored at a memorial service held after one month of combat. The regiment consists of Japanese Americans. U.S. Fifth Army. July 30, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

ddr-densho-114-162-mezzanine-e4825327b6-a

Original caption: Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd Regiment Combat Team, 2nd Battalion, salute as the American national anthem is played at the finale of the Memorial Day services held at the front, in Fay’s area, France. Seventh Army. November 11, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.

By Natasha Varner with material excerpted from Brian Niiya’s “Japanese Americans in military during World War II” and Marie Sato’s “Japanese American women in military” encyclopedia entries.

[Blog header: Original caption: Japanese-American Infantrymen of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 34th Division, moving up to the front, on a dusty road in the Volletri area, Italy. May 28, 1944. Courtesy of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army.]

Resource List (curated by Densho content director Brian Niiya) 
  1. Watch oral history clips of Nisei military service here.

2. Book recommendations

Among the broader works are:
Masayo Duus’s Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and 442nd (University of Hawaii Press, 1987); James C. McNaughton’s Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Department of the Army, 2006);
Brenda Moore’s Serving Our Country: Japanese American Women in the Military during World War II (Rutgers University Press, 2003); Franklin Odo’s No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai’i during World War II (Temple University Press, 2003); and Japanese Eyes… American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii’s World War II Nisei Soldiers (Tendai Educational Foundation, 1998).

Some significant stories of individual Nisei soldiers include:
Ralph G. Martin’s biography of Ben Kuroki, The Boy from Nebraska (Harper & Row, 1946) or Daniel Inouye’s memoir Journey to Washington (with Lawrence Elliott, Prentice-Hall, 1967); and Pamela Rotner Sakamoto’s Midnight in Broad Daylight (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2016).

3. Film recommendations

The early films by Loni Ding including Nisei Soldier: Standard Bearer for an Exiled People remain among the best introductions to the story. Among the many worthwhile films on more specific aspects of the story are Looking Like the Enemy (directed by Bob Nakamura, 1996), Journey of Honor (directed by Stuart Yamane, 2001), and Honor & Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story (directed by Lucy Ostrander & Don Sellers, 2013).

 

4. Children’s book recommendations

 

For younger children, Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee’s Heroes (Lee & Low Books, 1995) is a worthwhile introduction. For older kids, Graham Salisbury dramatizes the bizarre and little known story of Nisei soldiers being used as “bait” in a program that attempted to train attack dogs to recognize the “Japanese scent” in Eyes of Emeperor (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005). Salisbury’s Hunt for the Bamboo Rat (Wendy Lamb Books, 2014) is based on the hard-to-believe saga of Nisei intelligence agent Richard Sakakida.

Leave a Reply