Elias Atienza is a history sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
If you’ve stopped by Robert E. Kennedy Library in the past few months, you may have noticed a display on Japanese-American internment during World War II, when 120,000 Japanese-Americans were interned as a result of Executive Order 9066.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the order because of fears that Japanese-Americans were spies and saboteurs. Few people resisted the order at the time and many even championed it. When the war was over, many Japanese-Americans lost their property and jobs and were driven out of the communities where they once lived. Despite these longitudinal injustices, thousands of Japanese-Americans still gave their lives for the United States during World War II. These Nisei — second generation Japanese-Americans — from Hawaii and the mainland formed the core of both the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion.
The 442nd remains the most decorated World War II unit in terms of its size and duration of duty. Over the course of one year of combat service, the unit of only 4,000 men earned more than 9,000 Purple Hearts. Twenty-one soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, though 20 of these weren’t only delivered until the 1990s because the government’s refused to grant them because of the recipients’ Japanese heritage. A large number of the medals were awarded for bravery and heroism committed during the 442nd’s rescue of the so called “Lost Battalion” a unit that was stranded in enemy terrain. In this mission, 442nd sustained more than 800 casualties and rescued 211 men.
In their final act of the war, they broke through the Gothic Line to liberate northern Italy from Germany. Their motto was “go for broke,” and by God they did, earning themselves eight separate Presidential Unit Citations, the highest award given to units for extraordinary heroism.
We often forget that white Americans were not the only soldiers who fought during World War II. African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Latino-Americans and other minorities gave their lives by the thousands and the tens of thousands to fight Nazi tyranny and Japanese imperialism. We must never forget their sacrifices and the struggles they faced in the theater of battle as well as back home.
The 442nd, along with other ethnic minorities, fought to liberate a continent controlled by people whose ideologies were built on racism, discrimination and the extermination of certain ethnic and religious groups, only to return to their own country and face discrimination, racism and sanctioned segregation. They fought for the freedom of others despite not yet having freedom of their own.
The 442nd represents the best of America. They fought for the freedom of a conquered Europe and gave their lives to liberate people they had never met before. They served their country despite the prejudice much of the U.S. held against them due to their ethnicity.
Harry Truman later told the 442nd “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won.” They proved real Americanism doesn’t have to do with one’s skin color, only being united in the cause of liberty. They proved the American Dream is meant for all people, even those who don’t have access to it yet.
May we never forget their sacrifices and continue to remember what they fought for: civil rights, liberty and the freedom of all people to live their lives.