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Japanese American Women in the US Military During WWII

The history of Japanese American military service during World War II is not a male-only story. By the time the war ended, nearly 500 Japanese American women had served in the United States Army.

When America entered World War II, the country had to raise large armies on both the Atlantic and Pacific fronts. The result was a manpower shortage, which required the military to turn to women for needed support. Servicewomen became military clerks, typists, cooks, drivers, and unit cadre, freeing up men to go to frontline combat roles.1

Japanese American women served in both the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and the Army Nurse Corps (ANC). The ANC began accepting Japanese American women in February 1943, while the WAC began enlisting them in November of that same year.2 Japanese American women had previously been denied entry to the WAC and its predecessor.

Japanese American women faced a difficult choice when considering whether or not to enlist. They had to leave family behind, often behind the barbed wires of government incarceration camps. And the women often faced strong disapproval from their family and friends, as they were often seen as breaking traditional gender norms by enlisting in the military.

So why did almost half-a-thousand Japanese American women join the Army? Quite often, it was for the same reason as the men: they were patriotic Americans who wanted to serve their country. Many had brothers and husbands in the Army, and they jumped at the chance to help relieve and support military men. Other women joined to escape life in the incarceration camps. Many also sought the travel and adventure that joining the military could provide. For a variety of reasons, Japanese American women from both the mainland and Hawaii enlisted for duty. 142 volunteered for the WAC,3 while over 350 served in the ANC.4

After induction, these women went through five weeks of basic training at one of five military training centers. Most went to either Fort Des Moines in Iowa or Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia.5 Unlike Japanese American men, they were not segregated. When basic training was complete, they received their assignments as clerks, typists, drivers, cooks, and unit cadre.6

Forty-eight Japanese American women were assigned to the Military Intelligence Service Language School. They became translators for the Army, trained separately from the men and assigned non-combat roles in document translation.7 A few were even so successful that they were retained as teachers at the school. Most others were assigned to the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Section at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, where they did important work translating captured Japanese documents. The Section was later moved to the Central Document Center in Washington DC.8

At the end of the war, eleven Japanese American WACs accepted military assignments in Tokyo under General Douglas MacArthur's command. As soon as they arrived in Tokyo, however, they discovered that MacArthur did not approve of enlisted women serving overseas. The general ordered them to either return to the States as WACs or continue to serve in Japan as civilians. Most remained in Japan as civilians and performed their work honorably.9

When World War II ended, the women of the WAC and ANC were not only proud of their service, but they also gained valuable education and job skills. And they held their heads high. Like their brothers and husbands, they had answered America's call in its time of duress, and they served their country with courage and sacrifice despite how their country was treating them.

Haruko Hurt, speaking about her reasons for joining the WAC, explained it aptly but with far too much modesty: "I feel that I belong here... I feel that I'm American, [and] I feel that I'm just as much American as any white person... I felt good that I was doing my little part in serving the country."

Servicewomen receiving their orders, courtesy of the US Government and Bonnie and Ken Kasamatsu
Female officers, courtesy of the US Government and Bonnie and Ken Kasamatsu.
Private Shizuko Shinagawa, 21, of the Women's Army Corps. May 1944. Courtesy of the War Relocation Authority.

Footnotes

1 "Japanese American Women in World War II, "Japanese American Veterans Association, accessed April 12, 2016, http://www.javadc.org/AJA%20women_in_wwII.htm.

2 "Japanese American women in military", Densho Encyclopedia, accessed April 12, 2016, http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Japanese_American_women_in_military/.

3 Loc. cit.

4 "Nisei Cadet Nurse of World War II: Patriotism in Spite of Prejudice," accessed April 12, 2016, http://www.cadetnurse.com/Nisei_Cadet_Nurse.html.

5 "Japanese American Women in World War II," Japanese American Veterans Association, accessed April 12, 2016, http://www.javadc.org/AJA%20women_in_wwII.htm.

6 Loc. cit.

7 Loc. cit.

8 Loc. cit.

9 Loc. cit.


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