History In a Minute
Have a minute? Then you can learn more about these key ideas, issues and events that shaped the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Click on the links below to get a short summary of these topics (in alphabetical order).
- 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)
- 442nd Regimental Combat Team
- Anti-Japanese Propaganda of World War II
- Bombing of Pearl Harbor
- Cooperation and Dissent within the Japanese Community
- Court Cases of Hirabayashi, Korematsu, Yasui, Endo
- End of the War
- "Evacuation" and Other Euphemisms
- Executive Order 9066, Forced Removal, and Incarceration Camps
- Families Facing Incarceration on the Home Front
- Fighting in Asia - the MIS (1942-1945)
- Fighting in France - Vosges Mountains to Maritime Alps (1944)
- Fighting in Germany - Southern Germany and the Dachau Subcamps (1945)
- Fighting in Italy - Breaking the Gothic Line and the Po Valley Campaign (1945)
- Fighting in Italy - Salerno through Anzio (1943-1944)
- Fighting in the Pacific - the MIS (1942-1945)
- Immigration, Exclusion and the Japanese in America
- Japanese American Women during World War II
- Japanese Community in the US before World War II
- Legacy of the Japanese American Soldier
- Loyalty Questionnaire
- Military Intelligence Service (MIS)
- Occupation of Japan
- Resettlement and Life After the War
- Women's Army Corps (WAC) and Army Nurses Corps (ANC)
- Want a quick overview of the major issues and events of the time period? Get in gear at our Boot Camp.
- Look up unfamiliar terms in our Glossary.
100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)
The 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) was the first group of Japanese American World War II combat infantry soldiers. The unit members had been members of the 298th and 299th Infantries of the Hawaii National Guard. The unit was activated in California in June 1942. The 100th established a strong military record during their service in Europe, setting the stage for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which arrived later. The "Separate" in their name meant that the battalion, unlike others, was not part of a larger regiment. When the 442nd RCT arrived in Italy, the 100th became a part of it, dropping the "Separate" label but retaining their name as the 100th.
"Remember Pearl Harbor" was the motto of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). It was known among its members as the "One Puka Puka." The word "puka," which in Hawaiian means "hole," represented the hole in the number zero. Together with the 442nd RCT, it is the most decorated unit in US military history for its size and length of service.
442nd Regimental Combat Team
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was a US Army regiment made up of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and mainland incarceration centers. The unit was activated in Mississippi in February 1943. The 442nd fought in Italy, France and Germany. Its most noted accomplishments include the rescue of the "Lost Battalion" and the freeing of survivors of a death march in Germany. Together with the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the 442nd is the most decorated unit in US military history for its size and length of service.
"Go For Broke" was their motto. In Hawaiian slang, when dice-playing gamblers would "go for broke," they would "shoot the works," or risk it all in one effort to win big. The 442nd chose "go for broke," because they would put everything on the line. Their regiment included the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, 206th Army Ground Force Band, Antitank Company, Cannon Company, Service Company, medical detachment, headquarters companies, and three infantry battalions.
Anti-Japanese Propaganda in WWII
The period following the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a confusing time for many Americans. For some, there was a clear difference between their Japanese neighbors and friends and the "enemy" the US fought against. Others, however, gave in to the growing anxiety and fear of the Japanese. These feelings had been present for years before the war began. This was mainly because of anti-Japanese propaganda that had already been in place.
Propaganda is the use of information to put forth a certain political view. It can take many forms, like pamphlets, posters, editorial cartoons, music and movies. During World War II, propaganda encouraged Americans to support the war effort by joining the Army, by saving rationed supplies like sugar, and by buying bonds. But it also was used to promote anti-Japanese feelings. In the decades before the war, the media portrayed the Japanese as the "yellow peril." This idea was originally used to describe Chinese immigrants in Europe and the Americas in the 1800s. The media portrayed the Japanese as inhuman, with sharp fangs and squinty eyes. Such propaganda suggested that the Japanese were dangerous and frightening. When the war began, propaganda continued to advertise such images, causing many to believe that the Japanese could not be trusted.
Bombing of Pearl Harbor
At about 7:55 am on December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes attacked the Naval Base Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was the first wave of surprise attacks that would continue until about 9:45 am. Within those two hours, the Japanese destroyed or damaged 19 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and nearly 300 airplanes. More than 2,300 US service personnel were killed, with more than 1,100 wounded.
The attack was meant to destroy the US Pacific Fleet. There was extensive damage, and many lost their lives. However, the assault was considered a failure for the Japanese Imperial Army, because repair yards, fuel reserves, and the submarine base were left with little damage.
On December 8, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan, which it approved with just one opposing vote. US-Japan relations had already suffered in the months before the attack because of failed negotiations between the countries. These negotiations had been about Japan's expansion in Asia and the US' support of the Allies in the war.
Cooperation and Dissent Among Japanese Americans
When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the reaction among the Japanese community was mixed. While most were shocked and horrified by the assault, others felt confusion, fear and a sense of betrayal. In Hawaii, everyone, regardless of race, pitched in to help the wounded, clear up the destruction, and restore order. But just hours after the assault, the FBI began to round up Japanese community leaders and arrest them. Fear and hysteria of the Japanese quickly took hold. Eventually, anyone of Japanese descent was excluded from areas along the West Coast.
On the mainland, the majority of those in the Japanese community cooperated with the government, following instructions to leave their homes and report to "assembly centers." Nisei who resisted were arrested and imprisoned. A handful challenged their imprisonment in court. Their cases led to landmark decisions questioning whether the government's actions were in line with the US Constitution. Those who protested the "evacuation" orders or were somehow found to be "disloyal" to the US faced harsher imprisonment. Violence against those imprisoned and uprisings within the "camps" happened occasionally.
Many Japanese Americans, however, assisted in the war effort in whatever way they could. Thousands volunteered for the armed forces, including for the 100th/442nd and Women's Army Corps. Others worked as migrant farmers on temporary leave outside of the camps. Still others worked within the camps, offering their various skills.
At the end of 1944, when the exclusion order was withdrawn, the government set up a program that would allow Japanese Americans to give up their US citizenship. This was previously impossible to do unless the person was charged with treason. The program was used to encourage Japanese Americans to give up their citizenship and be sent to Japan, which some did under pressure.
Court Cases of Hirabayashi, Korematsu, Yasui, and Endo
Many within the Japanese community in the US followed government orders and left their homes for incarceration centers. But a few individuals chose to resist the "evacuation order." They instead questioned the government's actions. Their resistance would have a far-reaching impact for the Japanese in the US as well as for all Americans. Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui separately challenged the orders and were then arrested and imprisoned. In June 1943, the Supreme Court ruled in separate court cases against them. It determined that the curfew and detention of Japanese Americans were constitutional.
Mitsuye Endo and Fred Korematsu, who also individually challenged the mass exclusion, were arrested and imprisoned. In December 1944, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Endo. She was a Japanese American state employee who had been fired at the war's start due to her ancestry. The Court released her from her imprisonment at the Tule Lake camp. However, the Court also ruled that the government and military had every right to forcibly remove and detain Japanese Americans without charges or trial during wartime. Korematsu, a Nisei who failed to report for "evacuation," received a similar verdict. The Supreme Court ruled that Executive Order 9066 was constitutional.
Endo's case would eventually lead to the return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast and to the closing of the incarceration camps. But it would not be until about forty years later that the convictions of Hirabayashi, Yasui, Endo and Korematsu would be voided. This meant that the government's actions were determined as unjust.
End of the War
On May 2, 1945, the German Army, defeated by Allied forces and facing certain failure, surrendered to the Allies in Italy, a few days after Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, committed suicide. Six days later, on May 8, the war in Europe was officially over. It became known as V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day.
On August 6, 1945, the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and then three days later, another on Nagasaki, essentially ending the war. On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered. After four years of fighting in Europe and the Pacific, the Americans would finally see the conclusion of World War II. September 2 became known as V-J Day, or Victory in Japan Day.
"Evacuation" and Other Euphemisms
A less obvious form of propaganda was the use of euphemisms, or substituting milder words or phrases for offensive ones (like "passed away" for "died"). Euphemisms would be used to explain or justify the treatment of Japanese Americans during wartime. The government used words like "evacuation" to describe the forced removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry to remote centers in the desert. These centers were referred to as "relocation centers" or "internment camps."
Such a powerful use of words suggested that the forced removal and confinement of the Japanese community were voluntary acts. It would suggest that these actions were made for the Japanese community's own safety and protection, which was not the case. Today, we recognize the "evacuation" as a forced removal. We also recognize that the "camps" were actually prisons, or incarceration centers.
You may also see the use of "American concentration camp" for these centers. This choice of words refers to the definition of a concentration camp as a place at which people are confined because they are members of a certain persecuted group. It's a term most commonly used to refer to the Nazi camps of World War II. These Nazi camps held millions of Jews and other persecuted minorities under extremely harsh and cruel conditions. The term "American concentration camp" is used interchangeably with "incarceration camp." The designation of "American" recognizes the important difference between the US incarceration centers and the Nazi camps.
Executive Order 9066, Forced Removal, and Incarceration Camps
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The order created restricted "military areas" along the West Coast. It set the stage for the mass removal of all people of Japanese descent.
The War Relocation Department rounded up about 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, claiming that it was for their safety and protection in a time of war. In Hawaii, more than one-third of the population was Japanese. Just about 1,000 "high-risk" Japanese were detained, with more than 150,000 allowed to remain home. The government recognized that the process of moving them and the loss to the economy were too costly.
Many Japanese immigrants had been living in the US for more than fifty years. Their children, the Nisei, were American citizens by birth. Families had to leave behind their homes, most of their belongings, their businesses, their schools, and their friends. They were then sent to live in one of ten hastily built incarceration camps in remote locations throughout the Western states and Arkansas. These were barracks-style quarters behind barbed wire, where they were kept under 24-hour guard and prevented from coming and going freely. Most would remain there almost until the war's end, when the "camps" were shut down and the exclusion orders withdrawn.
For a list of the incarceration centers in the US, check out our Boot Camp.
Families Facing Incarceration on the Home Front
Of the more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly detained in the incarceration centers through WWII, about half were children. Families were imprisoned for up to four years in poor housing, surrounded by armed guards and held behind barbed wire. In some cases, family members were separated and put into different "camps." Many in the camps faced great anxiety over whether or not to volunteer for the armed forces. If they volunteered, they would be separated from their families. They would also serve the US government, which had imprisoned their loved ones without charges or trial. Still, more than 2,000 Nisei volunteered from the camps between 1944 and 1945.
Those detained did their best to lead "normal" lives while in confinement. They attended church services, went to schools in the camps, and helped in the war effort in farming and professional jobs for very little pay. Some families stayed past the war's end, even after the other camps were shut down and exclusion orders withdrawn. Some incarcerees who found work outside of the centers were permitted to leave for short periods and, eventually, permanently. But most who had family in the camps chose to stay, having nowhere else to go.
The incarceration experience affected the thousands of families who were imprisoned in ways that have not yet been fully determined. Its impact on their lives was profound and far-reaching. The experience affected not only their physical health but also their emotional well-being for decades to come.
Fighting in Asia - The MIS (1942-1945)
During the war, most Americans knew that US troops were fighting in Europe and in the Pacific. But a relatively small group of soldiers also fought in the lesser-known war in Southeast Asia and China. These soldiers served with the Allies in what is known as the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw China as a possible base of operations against Japan. He also saw it as an entry point for an invasion of Japan. Most of the combat in Asia took place in Japanese-occupied Burma (also known as Myanmar). The Americans worked with Allied forces, primarily Chinese, British, and Indian, to engage Japanese forces in Asia, away from US operations in the Pacific. America was mostly involved in securing northern Burma to make sure that war supplies were safely transported to China.
The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was key to the war effort in the CBI Theater. From 1942 to 1944, the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) sent about 150 of their graduates to the CBI Theater to support air and ground combat. These graduates worked as interpreters and translators and fought on the battlefields. MIS Nisei helped to man the intelligence centers in India and China. The MIS linguists also worked with the American special forces units, Merrill's Marauders and the MARS Task Force, the only dedicated American ground-fighting forces in the CBI Theater.
For more information on the MIS in Asia, click here.
Fighting in France - Vosges Mountains to Maritime Alps (1944)
In mid-July, members of the Anti-Tank Company of the 442nd RCT were assigned to a secret mission in Rome. They were trained to fight as the infantry for airborne gliders in the invasion of southern France.
Meanwhile, in October 1944, the 442nd RCT liberated the northeast French town of Bruyères in a vicious battle. They endured icy rain and were bombarded by German rockets, before taking the small village of Biffontaine. At the end of October, the Anti-Tank Company rejoined the 442nd as the men trekked the Vosges Mountains to rescue the "Lost Battalion." Members of the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment had been stranded for two days on a ridge, surrounded by Germans, and running low on food and supplies. Within the six days that the 442nd fought the Germans and rescued the 211 men of the "Lost Battalion," more than 30 men of the 442nd were killed and many more were wounded. At the end of the campaign, the unit counted more than 800 casualties.
Immediately after the battle, they continued on to drive the Germans through the forest for nine more days of non-stop combat. In November, they headed to the Maritime Alps and the French Riviera, trudging through the snow and up steep slopes to guard the French-Italian border.
For more information on the 100th/442nd's campaigns in France, click here.
Fighting in Germany - Southern Germany and the Dachau Subcamps (1945)
In March 1945, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion left the 442nd Regimental Combat Team to support the Allies' final drive into southern Germany. The soldiers fought on the Siegfried Line between central France and Germany, moving to wherever they were most needed. They traveled more than 1,000 miles, chasing the quickly retreating Germans to the Austrian border in the east.
The 522nd joined up with several units, providing artillery support in key cities and crossing the Rhine and Danube Rivers. At the end of April, the Nisei came upon several satellite camps of Dachau. These were slave labor camps built by the Nazis to hold prisoners of war, which included Jews, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals and other persecuted minorities. In May, the unit helped to liberate a death march in the German countryside. The soldiers were shocked and saddened to see the terrible conditions of the camps and the wretched state of their prisoners, many starving and in poor health. The barbed wire prisons also served as chilling reminders to many of the Nisei who thought of their own families held in incarceration centers back in America.
For more information on the 522nd's campaigns in Germany, click here.
Fighting in Italy - Breaking through the Gothic Line and the Po Valley Campaign (1945)
The men would return to Italy in March 1945 to confront the Germans who remained stationed along the tops of the Apennine Mountains. In the darkness, the 442nd crawled up the steep slopes to reach the summit and surprise the Germans in their mountaintop posts. The Nisei faced heavy gunfire and fields covered with mines as they took ridge after ridge, eventually closing in on the Germans. They captured one town after another, finally breaking through the Gothic Line. It was their final series of battles before the Germans surrendered the war on May 2.
For more information on the 100th/442nd's campaigns in Italy, click here.
Fighting in Italy - Salerno through Anzio (1943-1944)
From September 1943 to May 1944, the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) fought up the boot of Italy, facing some of the bitterest battles of World War II. Their "baptism by fire" came in Salerno, Italy, just 15 months after they had left their homes in Hawaii. At Salerno the young Nisei men of the 100th went immediately into battle. They hiked through ankle-deep mud in the pouring rain, crossing heavily defended river lines, and suffered their first casualties. By the end of November, they counted more than 200 casualties and 75 dead. These "local" Hawaii boys, most of whom had never experienced cold weather, trekked up mountainous terrain through freezing rain and two-foot deep snow without proper winter gear.
In mid-January in blizzard conditions, they faced their toughest battle. They fought at Monte Cassino, a medieval monastery that the Allied commanders believed the Germans were using as an observation post against the Allies. The battle at Monte Cassino earned the original 100th the nickname of "The Purple Heart Battalion" because of the many casualties that they suffered. In March, they landed at Anzio, where the 100th wiped out the last enemy stronghold on the road to Rome in just a day and a half. The 100th, which entered Italy with 1,300 men, had suffered 900 casualties. They then joined with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which had just arrived from the US.
For more information on the 100th/442nd's campaigns in Italy, click here.
Fighting in the Pacific - The MIS (1942-1945)
The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) participated in military operations during and after the Pacific war, including campaigns throughout the islands of the Pacific and on American and Japanese soil. The MIS Nisei used their knowledge of the Japanese language to serve as translators, interpreters, and interrogators. They accompanied every major Army and Marine unit in the US Armed Forces. They also joined units of Allied nations, including Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, India and China.
They fought in the south Pacific at New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. They fought in the north Pacific at the Aleutians (Alaska) and at the Volcano and Ryukyus Islands of Japan. They faced intense combat in the Philippines and in the Marianas. The Allies sought to prevent the Japanese from a possible US invasion and from setting up a defensive perimeter within the Pacific area. Warfare in the Pacific was grueling, taking place over land, air and sea, and requiring the careful coordination of all armed forces. On land, many soldiers faced harsh tropical climates and diseases like dengue fever and malaria. In the air and at sea, they faced the fierce Japanese "kamikaze" pilots, who were willing to sacrifice their lives to destroy Allied aircraft and ships. The MIS secured information that would help win the Pacific war, including the translation of the "Z-Plan" document, Japan's defensive plan for the Pacific.
For more information on the MIS' campaigns in the Pacific, click here.
Immigration, Exclusion and the Japanese in America
The Issei, or first-generation Japanese, began to come to the US in the 1860s, settling in Hawaii and on the West Coast. By 1923, the Japanese represented the largest ethnic population in Hawaii. There they enjoyed the greatest independence and power among minorities. On the mainland, Japanese immigrants established settlements from the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest, but remained a minority. Not long after their arrival, the Japanese were excluded from America both economically and politically.
In 1870, Congress allowed free whites and those of African descent the right to become naturalized citizens. This right did not extend to Asians. From that point on, a series of measures would limit then eventually stop the flow of immigrants from Asia. They would also limit the rights of Asians in America. For the Japanese in particular, laws known as alien land laws prevented them from owning or leasing land for more than three years. It wasn't until the 1952 Nationality and Immigration Act that racial qualifications for immigration and citizenship were removed. This meant that the Issei were finally allowed to apply for citizenship.
Japanese American Women during World War II
During the war, women volunteered in large numbers along with men. At home, women filled traditionally male positions, taking on roles in the factories, with the government, in the military, and other organizations in support of the war effort. Many faced the "double burden" of caring for the home while also working outside of the home. Although relatively few women were combatants in the military, many served as nurses or in the Women's Army Corps (WAC).
Japanese American women faced a different situation because of their ancestry. They shared the same responsibility as other women of holding the family together during wartime. However, the mass exclusion of those of Japanese descent from the West Coast kept them from participating in the war effort in the same ways as other American women. Racism and the hardship of mass removal limited their opportunities. Also, Japanese families tended to be male-dominated. This meant that the needs of the men in the household came before the needs of other family members. But still, they saw a change from their traditional role as women. The war introduced new jobs for women, which would allow them to receive pay equal with men. Those with particular skills, like hairdressers or dieticians, were able to find work within the "camps." Later on in the war, Nisei women were allowed to leave the camps to help fill the labor shortage as secretaries, stenographers, and domestics. Younger women also saw new opportunities for education. They were able to take permanent leave to be college students. Families began to give up the tradition of arranged marriages. Women began to see more freedom in their lives.
Japanese Community in the US before World War II
In the decades before the war, the Japanese in Hawaii and on the mainland faced very different realities. In Hawaii, despite the hardship of working on the sugar plantations, Japanese immigrants quickly became the ethnic majority. They eventually enjoyed more independence and power than any other immigrant group.
On the mainland, it was a different story. A growing number of Asian immigrants in the railroad industry and agriculture and Japan's expansion in Asia all led to a general fear and suspicion of the Japanese. Anti-Japanese associations sprang up. Largely to satisfy these groups, the government eventually stopped immigration from Japan. The US also limited the rights of the Japanese in America. Along the West Coast, they were denied the right to own land, their children were sent to segregated schools, and they weren't allowed to marry outside of their race. Although many were able to live peacefully, others faced racism from those who did not want them in the US. The attack on Pearl Harbor worsened the anti-Japanese feelings that had been steadily growing over the years.
Legacy of the Japanese American Soldier
It was not so long ago that Japanese Americans faced life under discriminatory laws. Such laws prevented immigration, naturalization, land ownership and interracial marriages. The war against racial prejudice was fought by the Nisei soldiers. It was also fought by their families and others who believed that all Americans, regardless of race, deserved equal treatment then and for all time.
In the years following the end of World War II, throughout Hawaii and the mainland, the walls of racial discrimination gradually began to crumble. Interest in civil rights was growing. People were questioning racial intolerance and racial discrimination. In 1952, the Issei finally won the right to become naturalized US citizens. More than 30 years later, the Civil Liberties Act provided reparations, or compensation, of up to $20,000 to those held in incarceration centers during World War II.
On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by the Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda. About 3,000 people were killed. Following these attacks, Arab and Muslim Americans were treated with the kind of fear and suspicion that was similar to the anti-Japanese hysteria that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This time, however, the media responded with calls for racial tolerance. Japanese Americans were among the first to protest the discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans. Honoring the Nisei soldiers, their families, and those who fought for their freedoms, they vowed to ensure that the mistakes of the past would never again be repeated.
In February 1943, the US government issued the "Application for Leave Clearance." This came to be known as the "loyalty questionnaire," because it "tested" whether those of Japanese ancestry were "loyal" or "disloyal" to the US. Every resident held in the incarceration centers was required to complete a questionnaire.
The question of loyalty was centered on two particular questions. Question 27 asked if one would serve in the US armed forces. Question 28 asked for "unqualified allegiance" to the US and to no other foreign country. Both were difficult to answer for many, because it meant possibly being separated from their families. For the Issei, it also meant possibly being "stateless," or not belonging to any country. Despite this, government officials generally considered those who answered "no" to both questions to be "disloyal" to the US. These individuals were referred to as "No-No Boys." This term was used in a derogatory manner. Many others refused to answer the questions at all, and they were also branded "disloyal." Thousands unjustly referred to as "disloyal" were sent to the Tule Lake, CA, incarceration center. Tule Lake had been converted to a maximum-security segregation center.
Military Intelligence Service
A little-known US Army unit in which many Japanese Americans served during World War II was the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). MIS soldiers performed combat intelligence and psychological warfare in the Pacific. They translated enemy documents, interrogated Japanese prisoners of war, intercepted enemy communication, and persuaded enemy units to surrender. They served in secret. They worked alone or in small units assigned to combat divisions in the Pacific Theater. They served not only with the US Armed Forces, but also with other Allied armed forces, including those of Australia, Canada, China, Great Britain, India, and New Zealand.
The MIS servicemen included Nisei and Kibei (Nisei raised in Japan for any length of time) who were specifically recruited for their knowledge of the Japanese language. Because of the secret nature of their service, little was known about the MIS until 1972, when President Richard Nixon declassified all WWII military intelligence documents. Then the MIS was finally revealed to the public.
Occupation of Japan (1945-1952)
After Japan's surrender, there was much work to be done to secure peace and rebuild Japan. The Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) were needed for the successful completion of American post-war operations. More than 5,000 MIS linguists participated in the occupation of Japan, which lasted until 1952.
The MIS linguists were involved in every part of the occupation. They served in the military government and assisted with civil affairs like land reform and education. They assisted with the restoration of Japan, helping people deal with the food shortages and the lack of transportation networks, which had been destroyed in the war. They served as liaisons between American and Japanese officials. They provided aid to about 3.5 million soldiers as well as three million civilians who were being brought back to their home country of Japan from overseas.
In addition, many MIS linguists were also translators, interrogators, and investigators for the trials of Japanese war criminals. Their language abilities, intelligence skills and their own personal and physical connection to Japanese culture helped them serve as a bridge between the Americans and the Japanese.
Resettlement and Life After the War
Homecoming experiences varied widely from individual to individual. But there is little doubt that the return to America was challenging for everyone. At the war's end, the 100th/442nd sailed into New York harbor, met with great fanfare and cheers. Soon after, President Truman recognized the men in a formal ceremony, stating, "You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice-and you have won." The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) would face a different homecoming. Some would stay on in Japan to help with the occupation, offering to help rebuild the nation. Others would slip quietly back into American society as best as they could, unable to share their wartime experiences with families or friends because of the secret nature of their work. It was not until about three decades later that the MIS was made public.
Each individual held in the incarceration centers was given a transportation ticket and a small amount of money to restart his or her life. Hearing about acts of violence against the Japanese community and vandalism against their homes, some chose to start fresh in the Midwest or on the East Coast. Those who returned to their homes on the West Coast found their cars, boats and other belongings, some essential to their livelihoods, long gone. Still they attempted to piece together lives that had been torn apart and scattered like bits of paper in the wind. Many were greeted by storefront signs that cried, "No Japs Allowed" or "Whites Only." These signs served as painful evidence that despite what President Truman had said, the war against racial prejudice had not yet been won.
The fanfare that first greeted the Japanese American war heroes quieted down, as did the stories of their bravery and courage. Just as World War II would slip from the memories of most Americans, the Nisei soldiers would quickly fade into the background.
Women's Army Corps (WAC) and Army Nurse Corps (ANC)
In the 1940s, the US government did not allow women to serve in combat. However, more than 350,000 women served in the armed services during World War II. They performed a variety of non-combat tasks at home and overseas. In May 1942, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was formed. Just over a year later, it would be replaced with the Women's Army Corps (WAC), which had full military status.
But it was not until November 1943 that Japanese American women were permitted to join the WAC. Still, just a small minority served. This was partly because traditional Japanese social norms limited women's activities outside of the home. It was also because of racial prejudice against the Japanese. The first group of women trained as translators at the Military Intelligence Service Language School in Minnesota. Twenty-one graduates were assigned to translate captured documents. In total, about 300 Nisei women served in WAC during the war and the post-war period.
At the same time that the WAAC was formed, the government funded the US Cadet Nurse Corps. During the war, hundreds of Japanese American women, many from incarceration camps, participated in the program. As early as February 1943, Japanese American women were allowed to join the Army Nurse Corps (ANC). During World War II, although more than 59,000 nurses served with the ANC, working in field hospitals, evacuation hospitals, hospital trains, ships and planes, only a small number of these were Nisei women.
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