The Impact and Legacy of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team
It has been largely accepted and understood that World War II changed everything for Hawaii. A significant aspect of World War II and its impact on Hawaii was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
It all started with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a date that will "live in infamy." At the time, Hawaii was a territory of the United States, thus the events that unfolded at Pearl Harbor propelled the U.S. into war with Japan and subsequently Nazi Germany. The bombing of Pearl Harbor also had social effects, as it initiated blatant discrimination and prejudice towards Japanese Americans in the islands. The derogatory racial term "Jap" became widespread, internment camps arose, and Japanese American men were categorized as 4C, or the status of an enemy alien. Insulted by this treatment, Japanese American men in Hawaii were eager to prove their loyalty to the U.S. Thus, when the U.S. government (largely through the efforts of the Varsity Victory Volunteers, discharged Japanese Americans) reversed its ruling that prevented Japanese Americans from serving, they readily enlisted. The U.S. Army called for 1,500 Japanese American men from Hawaii; 10,000 came forth.
The men went into their first battle on June 26, 1944 at the battle of Belvedere in Italy where they worked with the 100th Infantry Battalion. In September 1944, the 442nd left Naples for France. Once in France, they fought battles in the Vosges Mountains and town of Bruyeres. In October 1944, after securing Bruyeres, they had less than two days to rest before being ordered to rescue the "Lost Battalion", a unit from Texas. The 442nd was the third attempt to rescue the unit, surrounded by Germans in the Vosges Mountains. In five days of battle, the 442nd were able to break through the German defenses and rescued the Lost Battalion, and suffered over 800 casualties. This was a pivotal battle of the 442nd, who proved their loyalty to the U.S. In March 1945, the 442nd left France to join another segregated unit, the African-American 92nd Infantry Division in Italy. There, they made a surprise attack on the Nazi Gothic Line, driving the enemy back. Less than a month later, Nazi Germany surrendered, ending World War II. Because of their heroics in battle, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of America.
But this wasn't enough for the veterans. The hypocrisy of fighting for a country that treated Japanese Americans as second-class citizens propelled the veterans to seek change. Veterans became educated through the GI Bill, where the government paid for their schooling for their service. This was essential, as education provided the means of empowerment. The men became active in politics, coalescing around emerging Democrat John Burns and played a big role in the mobilization of the Democratic Party in Hawaii, culminating in the Hawaii Democratic Revolution of 1954, where the Democratic Party completely upset the oligopolistic, predominantly Caucasian Republican party for the first time. Veterans also took office, such as Senator Spark Matsunaga and Senator Daniel Inouye. Veterans worked with the Democratic Party to create meaningful change in Hawaii. The newly revamped Democratic Party created land reform to give other ethnic groups opportunity to own land, established collective-bargaining rights for labor unions and expanded the education system in Hawaii. They also fought for statehood, in order to gain citizen rights that were compromised during the war. The statehood debate had been raised prior to World War II, but the U.S. Congress had issue with Hawaii not having a white ethnic majority. Therefore, statehood was only possible with the events of World War II as it put Hawaii on the map with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and proven loyalty of the 442nd veterans, thus dispelling any question regarding Hawaii's ethnic makeup. Through strategic organizing, Hawaii was signed in as a state on August 21, 1959 by President Eisenhower.
The story of the 442nd Regimental Combat team was one of two battles: facing the Germans in Europe and eradicating prejudice at home. World War II had far-reaching consequences, affecting Hawaii through the actions of the 442nd not only during the war, but long after. World War II became a catalyst for events of social and political movements in Hawaii. This was only possible through the 442nd, whose heroism, bravery and sacrifice are a true testament to their motto, "Go for broke."