What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Identities

How a Segregated Regiment of Japanese Americans Became One of WWII’s Most Decorated

The About-Face Permitting Japanese Americans to Enlist Provoked Dissent, Anger—And the Remarkable 442nd Regiment

President Harry S. Truman reviews the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 1946. Photo by Abby Rowe/National Archives and Records Administration.

By Franklin Odo

In January 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his War Department abruptly reversed course by allowing Japanese Americans to enlist in the U.S. Army in the fight against Germany and Japan.

This was not a foregone conclusion: The draconian mass removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans had been justified as a military necessity—and continued to be enforced. Two-thirds of those incarcerated were American-born Nisei, second-generation citizens; one-third were Issei, Japan-born immigrants, prohibited by law from applying for naturalization.

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Why I’m Still Talking About My Incarceration as an American Japanese

The Pain of Remembering Is Deep, But the Danger in Forgetting Is Far Worse

Japanese Americans attending a Sunday school class at the Poston War Relocation Center on the Colorado River in Arizona, about 1944. The author is not among those pictured. Courtesy of the Wada and Homma Family Collection/Densho Digital Repository.

By Chizu Omori

I am a member of a once despised minority group, American Japanese, who spent three and a half years incarcerated in an American concentration camp during World War II. Although that ordeal ended 72 years ago, the impact of that experience on my life and its broader implications for American society resonate deeply to this day.

In 1941, at the beginning of the war, roughly 10 percent of the adult “alien” men (Japan-born persons being ineligible for citizenship) were picked up