When people find out I write mysteries, they sometimes ask if I'm fascinated with criminals and killers. I am, of course, but I'm also fascinated by heroes. Thanks to Bill Crider, I've been alerted to a story about two groups of real heroes reuniting more than sicty-five years after the event that brought them together. The heroes were the men of the 1st Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, a Texas group that found themselves surrounded by German forces in the Vosges mountains of France in 1944. They were reuniting with the men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who broke through and saved them.
The 442nd were Nisei, Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the west coast, the sons of Japanese immigrants. Many of the men had parents, brothers and sisters in concentration camps where they were guarded by other American soldiers. Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans living in the western states were rounded up, denied due process, and sent to camps. For their own protection, they were told, but the soldiers guarding the camps had their guns pointing in not out.
When Roosevelt offered able-bodied men in the camps the opportunity to prove their loyalty, many enlisted. They were formed into a unit that was merged with the 100th infantry from Hawaii and became 442nd. Their motto was "Go for broke." They fought in Italy and France where they became known as the Purple Heart Brigade for all the casualties they sustained. The 442nd was the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. Their rescue of the 1st Battalion of Texans, the lost battalion, was perhaps the greatest of their many accomplishments. After the unit was cut off, two attempts were made to rescue them. Both failed. Then the assignment was given to the 442nd. After five days of fierce fighting, they managed to bring out 217 of the original 228 Texans, while sustaining 814 casualties, themselves. I Company went in with 185 men and 8 walked out.
What made the 442nd such fierce fighters? They lived in a time when people of color, especially people of Japanese ancestry were considered inferior and disloyal, so they felt they had to prove their loyalty.
One of the characters in my work in progress is a veteran of the 442nd. He fought in North Africa, Italy and France before being wounded in the Vosges. His friends and family spent the war in detention because of the color of their skin. The story isn't far enough along to share with you yet, but I will share a resource about Japanese Americans during that period. At the Densho Archives, you will find oral interviews with both combat veterans and concentration camp residents. Their stories, in their words, will move you like nothing else.