Today is Memorial Day. I hope you enjoy the holiday but remember the purpose of the day — that is to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Military.
The most decorated U.S. military unit in U.S. history was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Would it surprise you to know that this unit was made up almost entirely of second-generation Japanese American volunteers? One thousand five hundred of the 4,000 soldiers in the 442nd came from the Japanese American internment camps.
Since the past few Friday Footnotes and several future Footnotes have focused or will focus on agriculture in the internment camps it is only appropriate that we recognize the Japanese Americans from these internment camps who served our country. The 442nd suffered the most casualties during World War II of any unit. Some 800 Japanese American soldiers gave their lives for America during World War II.
Figure 2. President Harry S. Truman removes his hat in front of the color guard of the 442nd.
Courtesy Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.
The following dedication appeared in the 1945 Post Ano, the yearbook of Poston High School at the Gila River (Poston) internment center in Arizona. Pay special attention to the last line of the transcribed interview of the Japanese-American soldier.
Figure 3. Dedication page from the 1945 Post Ano, Poston High School, Gila River Internment Center
“I know why I am fighting, I am fighting to prove that my people are as American
as the Smiths, the Schwartzes, and the Szudinksis.”
It is easy to apply labels to people like city slicker, country bumpkin, hillbilly, Okie, redneck, New Englander, and the list could go on. We often attach labels to people based on their race, gender, geographic origin, physical attributes, political views, and that list goes on.
Figure 4. From the Manzanar Internment Center Museum.
During World War II there were outrageous labels, slogans, buttons and other demeaning items and terms targeting the Japanese in America. This had no place in America then or now. We need to treat all people with respect and dignity, regardless of their label.
And we need to thank all the military men and women, regardless of their label, who have given their lives for our country.