Nisei Service During World War II – Asian American-Pacific Islander Heritage

Celebrating Asian American-Pacific Islander Heritage!

1943_12_23_First 5 Nisei WACs_article_MorningRegister-DesMoinesIA_uiowa-edu After the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, looming fear of more imminent attacks on Los Angeles and the West Coast led the U.S. government to embark on a controversial program that targeted people of Japanese descent. Families and individuals of Japanese heritage were rounded up and relocated at isolated internment camps which were intentionally located far away from the American West Coast. The majority of them remained in these camps for the duration of the war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942, initiated the program. Relocation efforts escalated in the fall of 1942 with more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent relocated to 10 internment camps. The majority of individuals in the camps were American-born children of Japanese parents–known as “Nisei.” Nisei is a Japanese term used for children born to Japanese (known as Issei) in a new country. The Nisei children were U.S. citizens and many of them were young adults, vocal about their loyalties, and wanted to serve in the U.S. military during the war.

Initially the Nisei were forbidden from enlisting in the U.S. military, but they persisted in asking to serve, and in January 1943 Secretary War Stimson announced that “faithful citizens, regardless of ancestry” would be allowed to do so. The Army established a special segregated unit for Nisei—the 442nd Regiment/Combat Team—as part of the 100th Infantry Battalion.  Some Nisei received special military training to serve as interpreters and intelligence analysts. Even Nisei women were eager to serve, as at least 142 of them joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs). The Nisei served in all theaters of the war.

The 442nd Combat Team was one of the most decorated units of World War II. They received Distinguished Service Medals, the Presidential Unit Citation, and numerous individual awards. Private First Class Sadao S. Munemori of the 442nd received the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for “great gallantry and intrepidity near Seravezza, Italy” on April 5, 1945 when he sacrificed his own life to save two other men and cleared a path for his company’s victorious advance (see photo below). He was one of two men of Asian American-Pacific Islander heritage to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II. The other was bestowed on Sgt. Jose Calugas, a Philippine Scout for action near the Bataan province.


Veterans Health Administration (10B2D); U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs




















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