442nd Regimental Combat Team activated
In 1942, General Delos Emmons, serving in Hawai`i, recommended the Army organize Japanese American officers and soldiers into a special battalion. In January 1943, General George Marshall approved the formation of such a group for combat and in February, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was activated under the command of Colonel Charles W. Pence. Nisei, or second generation Japanese, also served prominently in the 100th Infantry Battalion. Both groups fought in Europe and in June 1944 they joined ranks in Italy, the 100th becoming the first battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; because of its outstanding record, the 100th was allowed to keep its original designation. These two groups became the most decorated units of their size in U.S. Army history, winning eight Presidential Unit Citations and over 18,000 individual decorations for bravery.
Fighting campaigns in Italy, the Rhineland and the Maritime Alps of France, members of the 100th/442nd were known for their tenacity as well as their kindness. While in Italy, the soldiers' love of fresh food moved them to pick fresh watercress from rivers and use their grenades (an unauthorized method) to catch fresh fish. As an acknowledgement of the soldiers' sacrifice and service, General Ryder ordered all rice supplies coming to the 34th Division diverted to the 100th for their use.
The men of the 100th/442nd fought some of the war's most bitter contests. In the Rescue of the Lost Battalion near Bruyeres, they lost two thirds of their men during a month of fighting. At the Battle of Cassino, they suffered such heavy casualties that it was known afterwards as the Purple Heart Valley. An artillery man, Neil Nagareda, described the fighting: "When you're under fire, everything seems sharper. Your hearing is so sharp you can hear all the gravel, you can see the mud fly by you. When the shells come, it sounds like bacon frying in hot fat - zzzzzzz. It's amazing."
After the end of the war, members of the 100th/442nd returned home, forming tightly-knit groups in the Islands and on the mainland. In Hawai`i, this group gained prominence in the late 1950s, helping to switch political power from the Republicans to the Democrats.