442nd Regimental Combat Team

“The initial conception of the formation of a Nisei combat unit I honestly think was mine. I have consistently believed and advocated that the overwhelming majority of the Nisei are unquestionably loyal, and that they would make the finest type of combat soldiers.” On December 17, 1942, Brigadier General I.H. Edwards, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, issued a secret memorandum on the subject “Enlistment of loyal Americans citizens of Japanese descent into the Army and Navy” which concluded: “G-3 recommends initial organization of a combat team to be composed of volunteer citizens of Japanese ancestry whose loyalty is unquestioned. Further recommends that this unit be employed in active theater — other than one where they would be required to fight Japanese — as soon as their training warrants.” On December 18, 1942, a memorandum issued from Personnel Division, G-l, WDGS on the subject “Organization of a Military Unit to be Composed of American Citizens of Japanese Descent,” stated:

“Recommend the immediate organization of a combat team, to consist of one regiment of Infantry, one battalion of Field Artillery, and one company of Engineers, all at a 15 percent overstrength, is authorized.” Sometime in December, 1942, when Assistant Secretary of War McCloy was inspecting military defenses on Oahu, Colonel Kendall J. Fielder of General Emmons’ staff assigned Hung Wai Ching, a member of the Military Governor’s Emergency Service Committee, to accompany McCloy on the inspection. Ching escorted McCloy to Kolekole Pass in Schofield Barracks where they found the Quarry Gang of the Varsity Victory Volunteers hard at work breaking rocks into the rock crusher. The VVV gang included Wally Doi, Dick Uyemura, Ryoji Namba, Hiroshi Kato, Wally Nagao, and Shiro Amioka who later volunteered for the 442nd. Ching related to McCloy the story behind the VVV, composed of Nisei University of Hawaii students who forfeited their education and vol-unteered to form a labor battalion as a gesture of loyalty in spite of exclusion from U.S. military service. History will note that this is the very same period in which the War Department’s critical decision to organize an all-Nisei combat unit was formulated.

General George Marshall, Chief of Staff, approved the recommendations of G-3 for the formation of an all-Nisei combat unit on January 1, 1943.

On January 2, 1943, McCloy convened a conference of top brass in the War Department plus Navy Intelligence representatives on the subject “re: use of Japanese in Army,” the memorandum minutes prepared by Colonel W. E. Crist, General Staff, MIS, stating in part:

“Mr. McCloy opened the meeting by stating that there was a paper in the War Department relative to the use of Japanese in combat troops, upon which a decision had already been reached. He stated that in arriving in this decision three main points were considered, namely: (1) their fighting qualifications; (2) the propaganda value; and (3) the impact on Asia.” In his book They Call Me Moses Masaoka, Mike Masaoka writes:

“McCloy, more than any other single person, was responsible for the Army’s decision to give Nisei any opportunity to fight for their country.”

On January 14, 1943, Brigadier General I.H. Edwards, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, sent a memorandum to McCloy on the subject “Status of the Japanese Regimental Combat Team,” stating: “The Army Ground Forces have been directed to activate the following units, to be composed of Japanese citizens, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, on or about February 1:

1 Infantry Regiment

1 Field Artillery Battalion

1 Engineer Company

Cadres will be obtained from Japanese already in the military service. Selective Service has been requested to call 4,500 men, 1,500 of whom are to come from Hawaii.” On January 28, 1943, General Emmons publicly announced the Army’s Nisei combat unit project and issued this call for volunteers:

“Once in a great while an opportunity presents itself to recognize an entire section of this community for their performance of duty. All of the people of the Hawaiian Islands have contributed generously to our war effort . . . Among these have been the Americans of Japanese descent. Their role had not been an easy one . . . Open to distrust because of their racial origins, and discriminated against in certain fields of the defense effort, they nevertheless have borne their burdens without complaint and have added materially to the strength of the Hawaiian area.

They have behaved themselves admirably under the most trying conditions, have bought great quantities of war bonds, and by the labor of their hands have added to the common defense. Their representatives in the 100th Infantry Battalion, a combat unit now in training on the mainland; the Varsity Victory Volunteers, and other men of Japanese extraction in our armed forces have also established a fine record.

In view of these facts, and by War Department authority, I have been designated to offer the Americans of Japanese ancestry an additional opportunity to serve their country. This opportunity is in the form of voluntary combat service in the armed forces. I have been directed to induct 1,500 of them as volunteers into the Army of the United States . . .” Within the next few weeks, 9,950 Nisei from all over Hawaii volunteered!

On February 1, 1943, President Roosevelt sent this now famous letter to the Secretary of War (Stimson) which read:

“My dear Mr. Secretary:

The proposal of the War Department to organize a combat team consisting of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent has my full approval. The new combat team will add to the nearly five thousand loyal Americans of Japanese descent who are already serving in the armed forces of our country.

This is a natural and logical step towards the reinstitution of the Selective Service procedures which were temporarily disrupted by the evacuation from the West Coast.

No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry. The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy. Every loyal American citizen should be given the opportunity to serve this country whenever his skills will make the greatest contribution — whether it be in the ranks of our armed forces, war production, agriculture, government service, or other work essential to the war effort.

I am glad to observe that the War Department, the Navy Department, the War Manpower Commission, the Department of Justice and the War Relocation Authority are collaborating in a program which will assure the opportunity for all loyal Americans, including American of Japanese ancestry, to serve their country at time when the fullest and wisest use of our manpower is all-important to the war effort.”

On the verbatim copy of this letter is the hand-written note requested by Elmer Davis of OWI: “Proposed letter for the President to send to the Secretary of War who will announce on Thursday, January 28, formation of combat organization of Japs who are American citizens, etc.” This note shows that the immortal words uttered by President Roosevelt about “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry” were composed by Elmer Davis, and not Roosevelt.

The rest of the story of the 442nd is well-known history. What we have just narrated is the long, arduous, and almost impossible struggle and odds that had to be overcome before the Nisei was restored the right to fight and die for the country through the 442nd experience.

The names of those honored men, “the unsung forefathers of the 442nd,” who fought for the Nisei’s right to bear arms for country, who should be honored and never forgotten are: Colonel Moses Pettigrew; Elmer Davis; Edwin Reischauer, who conceived and promoted the concept; General Delos C. Emmons, who strongly supported it; and John J. McCloy, most responsible for implementing the War Department’s adopting of the controversial plan to reopen voluntary enlistment by Japanese American into an all-Nisei combat unit, which became the renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

-by Ted Tsukiyama
Ted Tsukiyama was one of the young Nisei men abruptly discharged from the Hawaii Territorial Guard in January 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor the previous month. A month later, he was among 155 of these men who volunteered for a variety of job involving heavy labor with the Army Corps of Engineers. They were called the Varisity Victory Volunteers. Tsukiyama volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team after it was activated in February 1943 and later served with the Military Intelligence Service. After the war, he earned his law degree from Yale Law School and was an arbitrator in Honolulu for 40 years. He has been active in numerous Japanese American and veterans organizations, along with serving as a historian for the Varsity Victory Volunteers, 442nd Veterans Club and MIS Veterans Club. Mr.Tsukiyama wrote this article for the 442nd Veterans Club’s 50th anniversary booklet. Go For Broke, 1943-1993.