The American Nisei Regiments

Most are unaware of the Japanese-American participation in World War II. Even though many Japanese were being interned in prison camps such as Manzanar, there were a select few that were enlisted in the US army to help break the language barrier.

Nisei is the term for first generation Japanese-Americans. They were born and raised in America, but with parents who emigrated from Japan. The army interviewed 5,000 Nisei to act as translators in the war. The ones that were accepted were ironically sent to a special school in Minnesota to better comprehend the customs and language of Japan. Eventually, 3,700 Nisei graduated from the school served in the Pacific, saving many American lives.

During World War II the Nisei quickly earned distinction in combat. They were originally recruited primarily as interpreters, but soon came to serve in other capacities as well. The military also used them as both scouts and combatants.

In the Philippines the Nisei provided a valuable service by translating documents obtained from the enemy, and by the time the United States was ready to invade the Philippines the translations had helped the American army garner a comprehensive understanding of the Japanese plans.

Many Nisei served in Burma and China in the 5307th regiment that was known as “Merrill's Marauders” in honor of its commander Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill. Under his command the Nisei served as spies, who traveled to enemy lines to eavesdrop on the enemy's plans. The Nisei soon earned the admiration of their comrades for their loyalty and valor.

During the war two all-Nisei regiments were formed. The first was the 100th Infantry Battalion of Hawaii, and it was the only Nisei regiment during the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. As the war progressed, necessity caused the formation of yet another all-Nisei regiment, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought in North Africa, France, and Italy and became known for its fanatic fighting style.

By enlisting in the army the Nisei demonstrated their loyalty to America. Their oath of honor and loyalty to our country and our liberties would contribute to the eventual just treatment and equality of the Nisei. The government and the people both began to doubt the morality of Japanese internment.

The 442nd became the most decorated active American unit in World War II and suffered the highest casualty rate of any American regiment during the entire war. The members received much recognition, including seven Presidential Unit Citations, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 560 Silver Stars. The 100th Infantry Battalion also earned distinction, and obtained over 1000 Purple Hearts. Included among them was Daniel Inouye, who lost his arm fighting in Italy. He went on to serve as a Senator from Hawaii.

Although Japanese Americans were targets of hostility and persecution at the start of World War II, as the war progressed American attitudes towards them were changed, due in a large part to the distinguishable military service of the Nisei. With the help of the Nisei, America was victorious in several decisive battles including the Battle at Midway, against the Japanese empire.


World History Book Home

US History Book Home