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Overview

Courtesy of the US War Department, Library of Congress.

Their history, our history. The history of the Nisei soldiers is integral to the history of all Americans, regardless of ethnicity. The sacrifices these young men made during wartime - even as their fellow soldiers and their nation doubted them - are measured by the freedoms they earned for all of us today.

This history begins on December 7, 1941, when Japan raided US Naval Base Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The surprise attack nearly destroyed the Pacific fleet and thrust America into World War II. But it also intensified the anti-Japanese feelings of the American public.

Courtesy of the US War Department, Library of Congress.

The question of loyalty. The loyalty of Japanese Americans came under fire. Many of the Issei, or first-generation immigrants, had lived and worked in the US for decades. Their children, the Nisei, were American citizens by birth. Yet every individual of Japanese descent was viewed with distrust and fear.

The proof of loyalty. When confronted with such distrust, many Japanese Americans responded with resounding demonstrations of national allegiance. For many Nisei men, they chose to join the Allied fight. More than 30,000 Japanese Americans served in the military. These included volunteers from incarceration centers, where their families remained behind barbed wire fences.

The 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, consisting of nearly all Nisei men, would become the most decorated unit in US history for its size and length of service, with more than 18,000 individual awards shared among them. Together with those who served in the Pacific Theater and China-Burma-India Theater in the Military Intelligence Service, these Nisei were credited with saving countless lives at the cost of many of their own.

The consequence of loyalty. The Nisei soldiers proved that their ethnicity had no bearing on their loyalty to the US. First and foremost, they were American soldiers.

Their determination to show their loyalty to the US earned them the respect of their fellow soldiers. It also paved the way for the gradual acceptance of Japanese Americans into mainstream society.

Veteran Masao "Mas" Takahashi greets a student, 2014.

Their history, our future. Today, we recognize the history of the Nisei veterans as an indelible part of America's history. But their story is also a part of our future.

Their battle on the war front to demonstrate their national allegiance was also a battle on the home front to secure justice and equality for themselves and their families. By proving themselves at both fronts, they worked to ensure a future free from racial intolerance for all generations to come.


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