The heroes of World War II came in all shapes and sizes. Some of the biggest heroes fought for their country even though they faced injustice at home, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was one of the most accomplished of these units.
The 442nd was made up of second generation Japanese Americans. Because of the fears of many on the West Coast, combined with racism against those from East Asia, first generation Japanese were interned during World War II.
Despite this affront to an entire group of people, the second generation of Japanese Americans still signed up to serve in the military. Most of those who had language skills were assigned to intelligence units that translated Japanese communications or served as spies in Eastern Asia, especially in the China Burma India Theater. The rest were gathered into a line infantry unit.
They started their career facing heavy fighting in Italy during June of 1944. They advanced under heavy fire to cut off an entire wing of a German army around Belvedere.
As their presidential unit citation stated, they boldly went into action facing murderous fire from all types of weapons and often without artillery support.
The men stubbornly closed with a numerically superior enemy with such speed that they completely destroyed the right flank of the German army.
They continued to fight in Italy, seeing fierce action at Castellina and what was called Hill 140. Both were positions where the German army was heavily dug in, and required a patient and dedicated advance under heavy fire. At the end of the campaign the 442nd got several weeks of rest before helping with the invasion of southern France.
They engaged in a see-saw battle in the Vosges Mountains around the town of Bruyères. This was the last line of defense before reaching the German border. The Germans were heavily dug in, and they had orders from Hitler not to give an inch.
The 442nd’s most famous incident, in which they rescued the “Lost Battalion,” occurred during this period.
After the 141st Infantry Regiment, also called the Alamo Regiment, fought off heavy German counterattacks, they had to fall back. But a portion of their unit was stuck almost 1.2 miles behind the lines. They dug in on a ridge and waited almost a week for rescue.
Despite heavy fog to the point that the 442nd’s soldiers had to hold on to each other as they advanced, and despite rainfall, snow, cold, mud, fatigue, trench foot, and even exploding trees, they finally reached the Lost Regiment and brought them back safely to the American lines.
In their short time in action, soldiers of the 442nd received 18,000 awards in less than two years, including 9,486 Purple Hearts and 4,000 Bronze Star Medals. The unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations, with five of them in one month. The unit also had twenty-one of its members decorated with Medals of Honor.
The 92nd Infantry Division was a segregated African American unit that saw action in World I and World War II. They started as their own unit but eventually were joined with the 442nd during WWII.
They also saw their first WWII combat in Italy and fought near Naples in August 1944. By early 1945 they fought the Republic of Salò’s Fascist Army, the 4th “Monte Rosa” Alpine Division, which were Italian units that fought for the puppet Italian government allied with Germany.
Unfortunately, due to poor combat performance including unauthorized withdrawals from combat, the 92nd was considered inferior by both German and American army leaders. Accordingly, it was withdrawn and reorganized.
The 442nd along with the 473rd were combined with it to improve combat effectiveness, and some of the 92nd’s units were reassigned to rear area security.
The reorganized unit was quickly sent back into action, and the addition of the 442nd drastically improved their performance as they mopped up remaining German units in France.
Though the combat performance of the 92nd was mixed, the unit overall, especially after the addition of the 442nd, performed its duty under difficult conditions. Both units faced injustice at home, but rose above that to faithfully serve their country.
The 442nd in particular performed with amazing elan, discipline, and courage. They became a testament to the courageous spirit of the greatest generation.