“No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry….Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote these words on February 3, 1943, just one year after he signed Executive Order 9066. Even though their families were unjustly incarcerated precisely because of their “race and ancestry,” thousands of young Nisei joined the U.S. Army between 1940 and 1945.
Much decorated for their valor and often cited as being part of the most decorated unit in World War II for its size and length of service, Japanese Americans served in the U.S. armed forces in disproportionate numbers. While many served in combat units, others served as translators and interpreters in the Military Intelligence Service. In less than two years, one of their best known units—the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team—compiled an astonishing combat record. But this segregated unit, which was almost entirely comprised of Japanese Americans, suffered an equally remarkable number with about 800 men killed or missing in action. Because of the unique role they played during and after the war, Japanese American war veterans continue to play an influential role in the community. (Read more: Japanese Americans in military during World War II)
During World War II, many second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) women wore U.S. military uniforms. Nisei women contributed to U.S. war efforts in various ways, including as army personnel, military nurses and doctors, and Military Intelligence Service linguists. The history of Nisei women in the U.S. military began when the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) started to accept women of Japanese descent in 1943. The backgrounds, experiences, and struggles of Nisei women who served in these corps have just started to be revealed in the last couple of decades by scholars. (Read more: Japanese American women in military)
Photographs from the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee and the U.S. Army collection and other archives give us a sense of daily life for the Japanese American men and women who served in World War II. (Scroll all the way down for our recommended books and films on this subject.)
For younger children, Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee’s Heroes (Lee & Low Books, 1995) is a worthwhile introduction. For older kids, Graham Salisbury dramatizes the bizarre and little known story of Nisei soldiers being used as “bait” in a program that attempted to train attack dogs to recognize the “Japanese scent” in Eyes of Emeperor (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005). Salisbury’s Hunt for the Bamboo Rat (Wendy Lamb Books, 2014) is based on the hard-to-believe saga of Nisei intelligence agent Richard Sakakida.