Veterans Day 2019: The 442nd

We of Around the Grid always try to remember the men and women who have served in the military on Veterans (or Remembrance) Day. This year, I want to touch briefly on one group of veterans from World War II. It’ll be brief, only a few paragraphs, because I’m far from a professional historian, and all that the unit did in the European Theater would compose a book of its own.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was activated in early 1943, and eventually sent to Europe, beginning their career in Italy. They participated in the campaign up the Italian peninsula to the Arno River, often taking heavy casualties in its actions. They were in the forefront, according to what I’m finding, for the overcoming of determined German resistance in capturing an important hill, and the town of Castellina.

Transferred to France, they fought north, participating in the capture of Bruyères and Biffontaine, again taking heavy casualties in the process. After only two days in reserve, they were then ordered to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry. They proceeded to do so, losing 800 men in five days of fighting, and taking even more casualties as the fighting continued across the countryside. They were returned eventually to Italy and continued their career there.

By the end of the war, the unit had accumulated a collection of honors that made them, to this day, the most decorated unit of its size in the history of the United States Army. As a unit, they received eight Presidential Unit Citations — five of them in one month; individually, they were awarded 18,143 decorations … including 9,486 Purple Hearts.

Sergeant Daniel Inouye in France, November 1944

One other item of note about the 442nd: all of the enlisted men were Japanese Americans. Many of them had come from the “relocation centers” authorized by Executive Order 9066, and still had family members interned in these, essentially, concentration camps. They exhibited valor far beyond the call of duty in many cases, and flew in the face of prejudice in the completion of their duties. Perhaps their most notable member following the war continued to serve his state of Hawaii for years as a United States Senator: Daniel K. Inouye. He survived the many wounds he took near San Terenzo, Italy, including having the lower part of his right arm blown off by a German grenade, and went on to represent Hawaii from 1963 until his death in 2012.

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