“Go For Broke.” That was the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which served as a reminder of how each man in the all-Japanese American outfit had to prove himself on the battlefield in order to prove his loyalty to his own country. While the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is an example of an unfortunate mistake made by a great country, the fact that a great many Japanese Americans fought so hard for the U.S. despite such treatment is a testament to America’s goodness.

At the 10th Annual Conference, several Japanese American veterans of World War II gathered to tell their stories. For Joe Ichiuji, Grant Hirabayashi, Grant Ichikawa, Kelly Kuwayama, and Medal of Honor recipient George Joe Sakato, World War II provided the stage to show that they, too, belonged among the Greatest Generation. The panel was moderated by Terry Shima, veteran of the 442nd RCT and Executive Director of the Japanese American Veterans Association.

Terry Shima: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 changed the lives of Japanese Americans forever. They were tarred by their own government and the American people with the same brush that was used to condemn the Imperial Japanese. The Commanding General of the Western Defense Command reflected that attitude when he said, “A Jap is a Jap, regardless of who he is.” “Jap” of course is a derisive word, and the U.S. Congress has passed a resolution banning it from use, and we prefer and request that it not be used. The government fanned this hysteria.

Japanese Americans already in the service, like Joe Ichiuji, were kicked out of the military and joined the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were involuntarily removed from their homes and placed in 10 U.S. Army guarded camps located in America’s wasteland. At the same time, the Military Intelligence Service quietly recruited Japanese Americans to serve as translators, interrogators, communication interceptors, and infantrymen to work behind enemy lines to sabotage their operations.
In addition, a small but wise group of government officials obtained President Roosevelt’s approval to form an all-volunteer, segregated Japanese American unit for combat in the European Theater. This unit was called the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Eventually, 13,000 Japanese Americans served in the 442nd in Europe and 3,000 served in the Asian Pacific Theaters—many in combat units on the front lines.

A total of 33,000 Japanese Americans, men and women, served in the armed forces—many with great distinction. Eight hundred of them made the ultimate sacrifice. We are here to tell you their story.

To the panelists: During World War II, your loyalty was questioned. There was blatant discrimination and prejudice. How did you deal with this?

Joe Ichiuji: I’d like to answer by saying that I volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. I wanted to prove that I was a loyal American and wanted to fight for my country during a time of war. And I also wanted to prove that the U.S. government was wrong in the internment of Japanese Americans and to treat us as enemy aliens. So I felt that this was the only way to get my friends out of the camp.

Grant Ichikawa: On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which in effect gave Lt. General John DeWitt, Commander of the Western Defense Zone including the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, the authority to put all Japanese Americans—many of them U.S. citizens—into stockades ringed with high barbed-wire under the guard of the U.S. Army.

That was the blackest moment of my life—being treated as an enemy alien. In fact in September 1942, the draft board reclassified us as 4-C, meaning enemy alien unfit for draft, unwanted by the U.S. Army. Yet in November 1942, there was a recruitment team that came from the Army’s military intelligence looking for volunteers to fight against Japan.

My question was, “Why are they visiting us seeking recruitments when we were all considered to be loyal to Japan?” That was the reason why we were in the camps to begin with. But anyway, I wanted to prove my loyalty and asked my parents if I could volunteer. They said, “This is your country. Volunteer if you must. But do not bring shame to this family.” So I volunteered and went to Ft. Snelling with about 25 others, and we were sworn in as privates in the U.S. Army. When I put on that uniform, I felt whole again and regained my self-esteem. I was happy to have the opportunity to prove that we were loyal Americans.