In the early morning hours of a quiet Sunday morning on a beautiful island in the South Pacific, life was good.  A gentle breeze blew in from the oceans and the island was slowly coming to life.  The sun was already high in our local North Louisiana community and families were going to or returning from church.  It was winter and the warm breezes from the South Pacific would be a welcome change to the cool days of December in Union Parish.  Suddenly the world changed at this small atoll of paradise and the residents of North Louisiana were happy to be cool but safe.

At 7:48 AM on the morning of December 7th 1941 the Japanese Imperial Navy launched an attack on the American fleet anchored in the lovely bay of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  This attack was to keep the American forces from stopping the Japanese forces from capturing key Japanese land gains in the pacific.  While this was viewed as a pre-emptive strike that would be short lived nothing could have been further from the truth.  Japan unleashed a sleeping giant, America declared war and the rest is history as the United States slugged its’ way across the Pacific and ultimately dropped two bombs that ended the war.

Understandable paranoia gripped the nation.  My mother was raised in the Tahoe Basin of Nevada and she told me how her parents prepared to take in refugees from the American West Coast if California was invaded and the American civilians made if across the Sierras.  The American government looked inward and worried about the threat from its’ own residents.

On February 19th, 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which empowered regional military commanders to exclude certain civilians from being located in a specific geographical location.  In essence, this allowed the military to remove all citizens of Japanese origin from living on the West Coast.  All of California, and part of Arizona, Washington and Oregon was considered off limits to anyone of Japanese ancestry.  Between 120,000 and 130,000 were sent to camps near the eastern edge of the exclusion zone.  The Japanese – Americans were forced to leave their homes and were placed in tarpaper covered buildings with no cooking or plumbing facilities.  In some camps 25 people would live in a building designed for 4 inhabitants.  It is estimated that 80,000 of those relocated were born in America and were citizens of our country.  It was determined that if a person was of 1/16 Japanese ancestry they were subject to relocation.  There was one story of an older man so disillusioned that he walked out of the camp into the desert never to return.

Surely, after this wholesale action against an ethnic group there would be no loyalty to the country that invoked this action.  This assumption is incorrect.  At the beginning of the war Japanese Americans were discharged from the American Military and many were sent to the relocation camps.  These camps could have been a breeding ground for anti-American feelings; a place for incubation of hatred and resentment.  For thousands of young Japanese Americans this did not happen.

In June of 1942 Franklin Roosevelt decided to allow Japanese Americans to recruit in Army units and the Japanese formed the 100th Infantry Battalion.  This was after the Military Relocation Organization recommended against it.  Japanese Americans from the Hawaii National Guard formed this first unit and landed in North Africa.  A year later, despite racial bias, Roosevelt called for the formation of an all Japanese combat unit and the 422nd Regimental Combat Team was formed.

The unit shipped out for Europe and took extremely high casualties fighting for the United States.  The 422th proved their metal in battle and is recognized as the highest decorated unit in World War II.  One member of the Japanese American units won the Congressional Medal of Honor; however, a 1990s review of 22 Japanese Americans that won the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II disclosed racial bias and they were also awarded the highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

So what is it that compels the ones that have been so abused to fight for the country that treated them so poorly.  In the first segment of this series we identified that it is possibly the promise of a better life that draws the oppressed to fight for America.  In the case of the Japanese Americans if could also be that these noble Americans wanted to prove the Washington leadership wrong and prove they are loyal Americans.  This is the pride and integrity that built our great nation.

 

 

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