(NTV) Every year in Nevada, a group of World War II veterans meet to renew their unique bond and share firsthand accounts of history.
These Japanese-Americans were among the 14,000 soldiers of a regiment that went to the front lines to fight both the enemy and discrimination.
Shortly after Japan’s military carried out a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. authorities classified all residents of Japanese ancestry as enemy aliens.
Newspapers and radio fueled anti-Japanese sentiment.
“They were all saying, ‘Get rid of the Japs, we don’t want them, they’re not Americans, get rid of them,'” recalls Lawson Sakai.
The government forced 120,000 people into internment camps, including those born on American soil. Some were determined to show they did not deserve to be imprisoned.
Men in their teens and 20s faced the difficult decision to fight against their parents’ homeland. A few initially refused.
“Will you fight for the United States against Japan?” That’s the only question I remember, and I said ‘no.’ I didn’t have no loyalty over there, but I knew that my dad and my mother had a daughter over there,” says Sam Sakamoto.
Sakamoto was one of thousands of JAPANESE-AMERICANS ASSIGNED TO THE 442ND REGIMENT.
They landed in Naples, Italy in June of 1944, and were redeployed in France that September. The soldiers traveled 500 miles inland and were promptly ordered in to battle.
Their mission was to rescue a group of men surrounded by German forces that came to be known as “The Lost Battalion.”
The fighting was taxing and brutal.
“You don’t have time to think when you’re in combat. We were attacking, we kept going. Even if the guys are getting killed, left and right, we kept going,” says Lawson Sakai.
The fighting lasted for five days. The regiment rescued 221 fellow Americans, at a cost of about 800 lives.
America gave the 442nd a hero’s welcome when they returned home in July, 1946.
9,476 men died to prove they were true Americans, and something kept the regiment going.
“There was still, I think, some Japanese spirit coming from our parents. You know, it was kind of like, ‘never give up’ spirit,” Sakai says.
The United States is a melting pot of cultures, two seemingly contrasting elements came together in these men, who proved themselves as fine soldiers and fine Americans.