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Sunday, December 7, 2014
Pearl Harbor, Civil Rights, and Hawaii Statehood
By Selected News Articles @ 12:30 AM :: 19813 Views :: Hawaii History, Military

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 posed sharp questions about loyalty to Japanese-Americans.  On the West Coast, all Japanese--including thousands of native-born US citizens--were ordered to internment camps.  But in Hawaii, local officials convinced the Roosevelt Administration not to implement such a draconian policy.  Rather than rounding up all Japanese regardless of loyalty, in Hawaii the policy was to detain only specific "enemy aliens" believed to be loyal to Japan, Italy, or Germany. 

Today, after two decades of "political correctness", nursing grievances has become a primary theme of the popular culture.  But in the 1940s, the opposite choice was made by thousands of young Japanese Americans in Hawaii.  They stood up, volunteered to join in the war effort and proved the doubters wrong. 

Their decision paid off handsomely in a chain of events which would lead to the US Congress rejecting rump Dixiecrat opposition and granting Hawaii Statehood fourteen years after the end of WW2.  Six years after Hawaii Statehood, civil rights would become federal law and de jure segregation would collapse throughout the South.


Here is their story reprinted from ...

When the 100th Infantry Battalion began training at  Camp McCoy (Wisconsin) in June, 1942 its soldiers faced prejudice, suspicion and distrust, not only from other soldiers but from highly placed military and political leaders as well.  Even as the unit's training began, the War Department announced it wouldn't "accept for service with the armed forces, Japanese or persons of Japanese extraction, regardless of citizenship status or other factors." (Jun 17, 1942)  The progress of the 100th led to new dialog about the formation of a Japanese American unit, but on September 14, 1942 it was announced that the call for such a unit had been rejected "because of the universal distrust in which they (the Japanese Americans) are held."

The recruits at Camp McCoy were aware of the prejudice and mis-trust, but most were not aware just how deeply felt it was in the higher echelons of the military command.  Some of the all white officers and NCOs assigned to train them were schooled in psychology and were planted among them to test not only their physical and military abilities, but their loyalty.  After the war, reports surfaced of daily reports not only on the progress of the unit, but on the loyalty and suitability for service of individual soldiers, surreptitiously sent to higher echelons from clandestine mail drops.

No one could have predicted the wide ranging impact of these ill-conceived reports.  Designed to "weed out" the untrustworthy Nisei soldiers and validate resistance to an all Japanese military unit, the patriotism and dedication of the soldiers of the 100th had the opposite effect.  During the training phase, 5 recruits of the 100th received the Soldier's Medal for their heroism in rescuing several local civilians who almost drowned on a frozen Wisconsin lake.  On October 31st, 1942 twenty-six members of Bravo Company, 100th Infantry Battalion left Camp McCoy under a "secret transfer" to Cat Island where, for 5 months they served as "bait" in training attack dogs for use in "sniffing out" Japanese soldiers in the Pacific theater.  This experiment was based upon the supposed assumption that dogs could locate enemy soldiers hidden in the caves and jungles of the Pacific, based on the Japanese' purported "unique scent".  During this tenure, another member of the 100th earned a Soldier's Medal, and two received the Legion of Merit. 

By the time the men of the 100th finished their basic military training in December and prepared to ship out to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for advanced training, the young Nisei had given military and political leaders more than ample reason to see the error of their earlier doubts, suspicion and prejudice.  On February 1, 1943 President Roosevelt announced the formation of an all Japanese-American military unit, composed of volunteers from Hawaii and the mainland.  The new unit would be designated the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, but would go down in history based upon the unit's motto: "Go For Broke"


February, 1943  --  Honolulu, Hawaii

Thousands of young Japanese men milled anxiously about, waiting for their names to be called.  On February 1st President Roosevelt had called for the formation of a new military unit, composed entirely of volunteers of Japanese ancestry.  A call for enlistees followed in hopes of meeting the quota of 3,000 Japanese-American volunteers from the mainland, and 1,500 from Hawaii.  In Hawaii, more than a thousand volunteered the first day of the announcement and now as they gathered for the roll call of those accepted for duty, there were nearly 10,000 volunteers.

From the microphone, a voice began to read the names of those young men selected, in alphabetical order.   When the long list had been read, those selected said their good-bys and headed for the trucks.  One young Japanese-American teen stood for a moment, tears at the corners of his eyes.   "Tough luck, Dan," his parents said.

"Sorry," Dan replied as he walked dejectedly away.  The 18-year old pre-med student had missed his opportunity to join his Hawaiian brothers in the formation of the all new 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Service to others was nothing new to young Dan.   On December 7, 1941, during the first wave of the enemy attack on Pearl Harbor, the 17 year-old had pedaled his bicycle to the first aid station where he had worked all night and into the next day.  In the days that followed he had alternated between studies at school and working a 12 hour graveyard shift at aid station.  After graduation in the spring, he had enrolled for his first year of college at the University of Hawaii.  When the call for volunteers for the new 442nd came out, he signed up the first day.

In the days that followed the announcement of the young men accepted for service, Dan pestered the draft board to learn the reason for his rejection.  Finally he was told that because of his continuing work at the aid station, and because he was enrolled in premed studies, he was needed at home.  "Give me about an hour," he told the draft board.  "Then call the aid station and the university.  They'll tell you that I've just given my notice to quit by the end of the week."  Two days later Daniel Inouye said goodbye to his family to embark on a war-time military experiment the outcome of which no one could have predicted. 

Though the initial call had been for 1,500 volunteers from Hawaii, in all more than 2,600 young men, most of them Nisei (second generation Japanese-Americans) were accepted for service in the 442nd.  Back on the mainland, where 110,000 American citizens were being warehoused in concentration camps referred to as "relocation centers", 1,256 volunteered and close to 800 were accepted.

On March 28, 1943 the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce hosted a special farewell for its 2,686 young men leaving for training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.  The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported:

"No scene in Honolulu during World War II has been more striking, more significant, than that at the territorial capitol grounds on Sunday.  It was not alone the size of the crowd, somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000, and said by old timers to be the largest that ever massed within the gateways to old Iolani Palace...It was, most significantly, the evident pride of the families and friends of these young Americans--their pride that the youths are entrusted with the patriotic mission of fighting for their country and the Allied Nations."

The recruits of the 442nd arrived at Camp Shelby in May and began training on the 10th.  The unit had been organized into three battalions with supporting Field Artillery, Combat Engineers, Headquarters and Medical detachments.  Training began almost immediately upon arrival.  The 100th Infantry Battalion had finished most of their advanced training and been sent to Camp Clairborne, Louisiana for the field exercises that would complete the final phase before combat.

By the time the 442nd had completed its first month of basic military training, the 100th concluded their combat readiness training and, after two weeks of rest, returned to Camp Shelby.  For many of the young men from Hawaii, it was the opportunity to be reunited with family and friends who had left home to serve their Nation a year before. 

There was no such special reunion for the recruits from the mainland, who had already had more than their share of rivalry with the recruits from Hawaii.  They had taken to calling the recruits from Hawaii buddhaheads, from a Japanese word meaning "pighead".  The Hawaiians responded by calling the mainlanders kotonks, a term meaning "stone head" based upon a Japanese word used to signify the sound of an empty coconut hitting the ground. 

Such rivalries were not unexpected, and as the trainees continued through long hours of combat preparation, they began to come together as a unit.  The men of the 442nd would eventually become very much a family, in fact.  In some instances they were indeed family, such as was the case of the four mainland  Masaoka brothers (Ben, Mike, Tad, and Ike) who all served with the 442nd.  The fifth brother in the Masaoka family also served in uniform...with the 101st Airborne. 

The rivalries existed not only between the buddhaheads and the kotonks, however.  The new recruits of the 442nd looked with envy at their "brothers" of the 100th Infantry Battalion who had finished training and were ready for action.  In July the 100th received its colors, the unit's motto "Remember Pearl Harbor" emblazoned on it for all to see.  Shortly thereafter the 100th shipped out to North Africa and then on to Italy.   During the "Purple Heart Battalion's" first combat campaign, the soldiers of the 442nd lived in the shadow of the glowing reports of valor and victory amassed by the 100th, while enduring the often tedious and certainly less notable training process.   All were eager to finish training and move to Europe to prove that their unit was no less fierce or courageous in battle.

The Department of the Army provided the design for the 442nd's patch with the upraised torch of the Statue of Liberty.  Like the 100th Battalion before them however, it was the soldiers themselves that chose the unit's motto.

The dice game of Craps was popular in Hawaii.  Those who played knew that in every game of dice there came a point when the game ended and it became time to get serious.  In that moment the participant would "Go for broke"...risk everything he had....on the roll of the dice.  The creation of the 442nd could have been viewed by some as an experiment, initiated only after a year of calls for an all Japanese-American combat unit.  The men of the 442nd bore on their shoulders the hopes of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who knew their sons, husbands, and brothers were every bit as loyal, tough, and brave as any other young American.  The respect rightly due America's Japanese citizens hung in the balance, and the recruits of the 442nd held the dice.  What they determined to do with those dice became their motto.  This was no game, it was serious business that would affect all of them for a life time.  They determined to "Go For Broke."


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Our American Triumph: Civil Rights and Hawaii Statehood


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