Honolulu Chamber of Commerce Farewell Ceremony for Hawaii 442nd RCT soldiers, March 28, 1943, Iolani Palace.
Prelude of the 442nd RCT
By Colonel Bert Nishimura (US Army, Retired)
So much has been written about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that everyone in Hawaii now knows about this legendary unit.For those of us who were part of this unit [people may think] we must know everything that has to be known.Such is not the case.On top of that, this was over sixty-five years ago.We have forgotten some of the details, aren’t sure about others, and may not have been with the outfit from the beginning to the end.As for our families, they only know what was told to them.
Such being the situation, I’ve written a short history of the initial organization of the 442nd which may be new to you.
No history is complete without including our fathers and mothers.They deserve to be honored.They had the courage to leave their home land and travel to a foreign soil thousands of miles away.They endured unspeakable hardships and survived.We were born to these immigrants and inherited from them character traits that enabled us to build a new legacy for those who will come after us.The “Issei” passed on those character traits to us.They individually and collectively cared for and nurtured us.The New England missionaries insisted that we, children of Hawaii, be taught to read and write so that we would understand the teachings of the Bible.Our American school teachers taught us democracy, freedom and individualism.The combination went to mold the “Nisei” soldiers of the 1940s.
During World War I, both citizens and non-citizens of Japanese ancestry volunteered to serve in the Territorial Guard.From these volunteers, Company D was formed and remained in Hawaii through the war.
On October 15, 1940, the two Hawaii National Guard units consisting of 110 officers and 1,741 enlisted men were federalized.There were nine Niseis in the 298th Regiment [Oahu] – three veterans of WWI, one clerk and five members of the Band.The 299th Regiment [Neighbor Islands] had 31 Nisei members.This large number happened because several Guard units needed baseball players to fill out their roster and were recruited without regard to ethnicity.
Graduates of the University of Hawaii’s advanced ROTC program were called to active duty.I was one of those and was assigned to Company M of the 299th Infantry Regiment.
The National Selective Service Act was passed in November, 1940, requiring all eligible male citizens to register for the draft.In the first draft, 1500 out of 3,000 registered were Niseis.The reason for this disparate representation was because Niseis could not get deferments as being employed in “essential” occupations.The two National Guard units were defending our islands during and after Pearl Harbor.One unit on Oahu captured a midget Japanese submarine while we on Kauai were sent to the island of Niihau where a downed Japanese aviator was terrorizing the native Hawaiians.He had been killed by the time Lt. Jack Mizuha and his men got to Niihau.
Three hundred seventeen Japanese American University of Hawaii R.O.T.C. students stepped forward to join the Hawaii National Guard.Before they were sworn in, the Army reminded General Short that most of the ROTC students at the University were of Japanese ancestry.His reply was classic.“I think they are perfectly loyal . . . we should go ahead.”It was one of the turning points for the Japanese in Hawaii.The students were sworn in.Rifles were issued.
Almost no one in Hawaii questioned the loyalty of the large number of Japanese-Americans in the National Guard.There was no time for that.Every soldier was desperately needed.The enemy could be appearing at any moment.Unlike the ROTC students many of the men were draftees.Having served a year, they were ready to be discharged from the Army.Regardless, the same question was asked of General Short about the advisability of using Japanese-Americans of the 298th and 299th Infantry Regiments against the Japanese enemy.Again, the answer was positive.Like General Herron before him, General Short had faith and trust in these Japanese-American soldiers.
At the crucial moment in one of the greatest crisis, America ever faced, the men of the 298th and 299th were at the vanguard of the U.S. Army.History has regarded the fact and it will remain forever that on December 7, 1941, men of different races, born and raised in the Territory of Hawaii, were waiting on the beaches to take on the enemy, knowing that the likelihood of their coming out of it alive was minimal.Almost every one “knew” that an invasion was to follow the Pearl Harbor attack.After that attack, the worst was believable.
In January, the 317 members of the Territorial Guard of Japanese ancestry were discharged without any warning or explanation.On the first of the following month, the War Department proposed that all soldiers of Japanese ancestry be released from active duty, discharged or transferred.Then on February 9, it ordered Gen. Emmons to suspend all ethnic Japanese citizens employed by the Army.On February 26, President Roosevelt sent a memo to Secretary Knox [Sec. of the Navy]: “I think you and Stimson [Sec. of War] can agree and then go ahead (evacuation of Japanese in Hawaii) and do it as a military project.”And in March came the announcement by the government that Japanese-Americans would no longer be eligible for the draft.They were classified “enemy aliens.”This was followed by the mass evacuation of the Japanese population from the West Coast states – California, Oregon and Washington.
Anxious to volunteer their service in any capacity to prove that the rebuke of their loyalty was unfounded, the Hawaii Territorial Guard petitioned the military governor of Hawaii to accept them unconditionally in the war effort.The military governor accepted the Niseis’ request and on February 23, 1942, the Corps of Engineers Auxiliary – the Varsity Victory Volunteers, as they were to be commonly known – was activated as part of the 34th Combat Engineers Regiment.For nearly eleven months the 150 Niseis who made up the V.V.V. lived at Schofield Barracks and labored on Oahu.
Soon troops from the mainland began streaming into Hawaii.On May 29, 1942, all Nisei soldiers were pulled out of their units and shipped to Schofield Barracks.There were 29 officers and 1,432 men affected.We were designated as the Hawaiian Provisional Battalion (Separate).I was designated as the supply officer.The day before we were to leave for Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, I was ordered to return to the island of Kauai and was assigned to the Office of Military Governor as the Civilian Coordinator.
On February 1, 1943, President Roosevelt approved the formation of the combat team consisting of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent. Then the call went out for Nisei volunteers to form a Regimental Combat team.I was ordered to report to Schofield Barracks as its Camp Commander.The Army expected to receive only about 1,500 volunteers.10,000 Nisei boys volunteered in Hawaii.A total of 2,686 were accepted for the new outfit which became the 442nd RCT, later joined by Japanese-American men from the Mainland at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.