100th Infantry Battalion
The 100th Infantry Battalion, initially made up almost entirely of Japanese Americans from Hawai'i already in the army prior to World War II, represented the first group of Japanese Americans to see combat during World War II. Their highly publicized exploits in basic training and combat in Italy helped change the minds of military and political leaders who had banned the enlistment and drafting of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, paving the way for large scale participation in the war effort by Japanese American soldiers. The 100th eventually became a part of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team .
After the United States reinstituted the draft in October 1940, several thousand men became members of the 298th and 299th Regiments of the Hawaii National Guard . Over 1,400 of them, approximately one-half of the total, were Americans of Japanese descent. At the time, the Japanese American community included nearly 160,000 individuals, comprising nearly 40% of the Territory's population.
On December 7, 1941 , immediately after the attacks on several military bases in Hawai'i and the Philippines, the 298th and 299th were federalized, armed, and sent to defend the Islands against potential invasion by forces from the Empire of Japan. To take their place, a Hawaii Territorial Guard was created to protect critical civilian sites including power stations, reservoirs, and hospitals. The Territorial Guard had been formed around the University of Hawaii ROTC unit which had been ordered to the Manoa campus, issued old Springfield .03 rifles with a single clip of five shells, and deployed in the hills around the campus to defend against a rumored Japanese paratrooper assault. The emergency turned out to be one of many rumors swirling around that day.
When white troops arrived from the Mainland, the Japanese American members of the 298th and 299th were sent to Schofield Barracks. Concerns by military and civilian officials put these men were in a difficult situation—could they be trusted? The issue of Japanese American loyalty was a national problem and the administration responded on January 5, 1942 with a War Department directive which classified all Japanese Americans 4-C, enemy aliens ineligible for the draft. Sixteen days later, on January 21, General Delos Emmons essentially purged the HTG of all Japanese American soldiers. Within a month, President Franklin Roosevelt sealed the fate of the community with Executive Order 9066 , paving the way for removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. In less than a year, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in ten War Relocation Authority camps and dozens of other incarceration sites across the country.
Approximately 1,400 Japanese Americans were in uniform, on duty at Schofield Barracks in May 1942 when Military Intelligence determined that a major Japanese naval armada was headed towards Midway, an atoll strategically located northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. If successful at Midway, the Japanese navy could then launch a major invasion of Hawai'i. Emmons, the military governor of the Islands and General George Marshall, army chief of staff, determined that the Japanese Americans were a potential security problem in the event of a Japanese invasion. Later that month, Marshall transformed them into the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion, and prepared to remove them to the mainland. While the Battle of Midway—eventually a decisive Allied victory that would be a major turning point of the Pacific War—raged, 1,400 of them, along with haole [white] officers were secretly shipped to the mainland on June 5. When they landed in San Francisco, after a zig-zag voyage to avoid submarines, the former draftees from the 298th and 299th discovered that they had been designated the 100th Infantry Battalion [Separate]: "separate" because it had no home and would be an orphan unit until it reached North Africa in 1943.
Still shrouded in secrecy, the men were transported in three separate trains, along different routes, to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin where they demonstrated extraordinary discipline and skill in basic training. In this mission they were fortunate to have had haole officers who knew and trusted the men as capable and loyal fellow Americans. Their Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel [later, Colonel] Farrant Turner, a veteran of WWI, now in his forties but who had led the 298th on O'ahu and lobbied/begged for the opportunity to lead the unit into combat. He hand-picked his executive officer, Captain [later, Major] James Lovell, originally from Nebraska but who had been teaching in Honolulu since 1930, most recently at McKinley High School. This last posting was critical because the school had a visionary principal in Miles Cary who believed that his largely Japanese American student body [McKinley was sometimes called "Tokyo High"] was capable of the best that America promised. Lovell absorbed and loved that perspective. Several other haole officers were selected because Turner was told that no rifle company could be led by a Japanese American. But Turner also selected sixteen Japanese Americans to be officers in Headquarters Company and in other posts. Affectionately called "The Old Man," Turner was universally revered by his troops who respected his unwavering faith in their devotion to country and duty. More than once, Turner and his haole officers challenged ugly racism directed at his troops and at them for being "Jap-lovers."
While there were reports of racially-inspired clashes between the men of the 100th and white troops at Camp McCoy, the Japanese Americans from Hawai'i were largely welcomed by the communities adjoining the military grounds. There were numerous social occasions for civilian–100th interaction and one notable incident involved men of the 100th who saved several Wisconsin residents from drowning in an ice-covered lake. The heroism was duly noticed and widely publicized.
More training at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, toughened up the troops while Washington, D.C. continued to deliberate their fate. One officer, Young Oak Kim, a Korean American, was ordered to join the unit there. Knowing that Japan had colonized and brutalized Korea, officers offered Kim a transfer out of this segregated Japanese American outfit. Kim refused, insisting that he and they were all Americans; he became one of the celebrated combat heroes of the 100th in Italy. Eventually, their skills and the need for fighting men in Europe, as well as ongoing lobbying to deploy these Japanese Americans convinced the War Department to issue orders for departure to the European Theater.
Race was a constant issue for the young men from Hawai'i where the numbers and concentrations of Buddhahead were large enough to shield them from regular and constant reminders of the gap between them and whites.  The American South was different. In this era of the Jim Crow South when overt and harsh racism was directed against African Americans, the Japanese Americans were placed in unusually delicate situations. Their officers told them they were to be considered "white": to use white drinking fountains and white bathrooms and to sit in the front of buses. Some of them took matters into their own hands. On leave in New Orleans, Mike Tokunaga watched as a bus driver roughly manhandled an elderly African American woman when she tried to board before whites; Enraged, Mike "grabbed the bus driver by the shirt and dragged him out. . . Six of us kicked the hell out of him."  Before it left Mississippi, the 100th took as its battalion motto "Remember Pearl Harbor," selected by the troops themselves. On August 21, 1943, after four separate basic training sessions, the men joined a convoy headed for North Africa.
Upon arrival Colonel Turner learned his men were slated to stay in Algeria, guarding German POWs; angrily, he demanded that they be permitted to join Allied forces pushing the Germans up the boot of Italy. The Army relented and, on September 22, the 100th landed on the beaches of Salerno. By then, it had become attached to the 34th Division, known as the "Red Bull" Division and finally had an official affiliation. One week later, Sergeant Shigeo "Joe" Takata, became the 100th's first fatality when he located enemy machine gun locations by deliberately exposing himself to their fire. His men destroyed the emplacements and continued the advance. Closer to Rome, the unit was ordered to join the assault on heavily defended Monte Casino which boasted an elaborate series of minefields and fortified bunkers. There, the 100th and other American units suffered horrible casualties. There had been 1,300 men in the unit when it entered Italy; after Casino, there were just under 600 capable of combat and their comrades called the 100th the "Purple Heart Battalion." From that point on, for the rest of the war, replacements from the new volunteer 442nd Regimental Combat Team began filling its ranks.
Just north of Rome, the full complement of the 442nd landed in Italy and the 100th was attached as its first of three infantry battalions. But because of its extraordinary combat record it was allowed the unique honor of keeping its designation; the Regiment thus included the 100th, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions. It later fought with distinction as part of the 442nd in Southern France and back in Italy where it managed, overnight, to undo a previously impregnable Gothic Line which the German army had held for months.
Aftermath and Legacy
The 100th Infantry Battalion lives on even as its original fighting men are being lost to the obituary pages. The young men must have had a sense of their critical mission in the war, in Hawai'i and in life, because they agreed to allocate two dollars of each meager paycheck to a fund which would build a clubhouse in Honolulu after the war. It continues to exist. There is now an established generation of leaders from the children of the 100th veterans who run the club and mind the legacy, including publication of the Puka Puka Parade which has been published monthly since April 1946. The title riffs on the number of the Battalion—one zero zero—by using the Hawaiian word, puka , meaning "a hole," to designate zero. The veterans played an enormous role in postwar Hawai'i, including pioneering writers like Ben Tamashiro, business leaders like Mitsuyoshi Fukuda , political figures like Sakae Takahashi and Mike Tokunaga as well as Senator "Spark" Matsunaga in politics and Jack Mizuha on the State Supreme Court.
The men of the 100th often jealously guarded their legacy as the original combat unit from Japanese American ranks but they did become part of the larger and more recognized 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In 2000, after an investigation into racial bias in the awarding of medals during WWII launched by Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawai'i, 20 Medals of Honor were awarded to Japanese Americans, including eight to members of the 100th Infantry Battalion. These were added to the single MOH recipient, Sadao Munemori , who was acknowledged in timely fashion. Highly trained, tightly knit on the basis of ethnicity and region, bound by determination to challenge state-sanctioned racism directed at their community, the men of the 100th performed their military obligation in spectacular fashion.
For More Information
Asahina, Robert. Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad . New York: Gotham, 2006.
Chang, Thelma. 'I Can Never Forget: Men of the 100th /442nd . Honolulu: Sigi Productions, Inc., 1992.
Duus, Masayo. Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and the 442nd . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.
Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board. Japanese Eyes . . . American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii's World War II Nisei Soldiers . Honolulu: Tendai Educational Foundation, 1998.
McCaffrey, James M. Going for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers in the War against Nazi Germany . Volume 36 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.
Murphy, Thomas D. Ambassadors in Arms: The Story of Hawaii's 100th Battalion . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1954.
Tanaka, Chester. Go for Broke: A Pictorial History of the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team . Richmond, CA: Go for Broke, Inc., 1981. Novato, CA : Presidio Press, 1997.
Tsukano, John. Bridge of Love . Honolulu: Hawaii Hosts, Inc., 1985.
Yost, Israel A. S. Combat Chaplain: The Personal Story of the World War II Chaplain of the Japanese American 100th Battalion . Edited by Monica Elizabeth Yost and Michael Markrich. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.
- Although Japanese Americans comprised the overwhelming majority of the unit, there were some men who were hapa [mixed ethnicity] or no-part Japanese who simply elected to remain with their Buddhahead friends. Because their experiences and challenges largely revolved around the national origin of their parents, the 100th continues to be perceived as largely Japanese American.
- Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board, Japanese Eyes . . . American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii's World War II Nisei Soldiers (Honolulu: Tendai Educational Foundation, 1998), 373.
Last updated Nov. 29, 2023, 7:57 p.m..