Legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team Celebrates 74 Years Since Its Formation in the Heat of War
Gov. David Ige
Published with Permission
Editor’s note: Close to 450 people turned out to honor and celebrate the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team at its 74th anniversary banquet on March 26 at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. Of the roughly 442 people in attendance, 47 were World War II Japanese American veterans, all of whom are now in their 90s. For the second year in a row, the program was emceed by Ken “Kenny” Inouye, son of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who served in the 442nd. Another 442nd son, Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige, delivered the keynote address. The Herald thanks Gov. Ige for sharing the text of his speech with our readers.
There is always a certain amount of intimidation in speaking before this audience. I think as the son of a 442nd veteran, the legacy and the legend, surely, is very intimidating. I was glad to see that Kenny was going to be the master of ceremonies because that’s something we definitely have in common, both being the sons of veterans.
This is a very, very special occasion for me. I wanted to thank the 442nd Veterans Club for inviting me to speak here today. It truly is an honor to be surrounded by such a legendary group of heroes, truly the greatest generation and, especially, all your families and friends who supported them in all of their endeavors.
You know, as governor of the state of Hawai‘i, I continue to be inspired in your presence. I stand on your shoulders — the shoulders of giants. I know that I would not be governor today if not for your actions, your courage and your commitment to this great nation that started more than 74 years ago and continues until this very day.
There has been much written and said about how you all individually and collectively changed America and changed Hawai‘i. I just returned a few weeks ago from Washington, D.C. As you know, we have a new president in the White House. I was able to meet him and meet a couple of the cabinet members and also able to meet with the leadership in the Congress.
As I was thinking about what I would say this afternoon, I really feel compelled to talk a little bit about the other part of your story — the story that often goes unspoken, part of your legacy that really is pertinent and really needs to be told today . . . . Watching (the video) Senator Inouye a little while ago just reconfirmed why it’s important that we tell this side of the story.
As you know, on the morning of December 7, 1941, when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Hawai‘i and the world were changed forever.
More than 50 years of racism against Asian Americans reared its ugly head that day. You — all of the veterans here and their families — were reminded that your faces were not like other Americans: You had the face of the enemy and all that it represented.
There were people calling for the removal and imprisonment of the Japanese community in California and Hawai‘i. These voices of intolerance and bigotry were heard in the halls of Congress and in the White House. The U.S. Army and even the president of the United States, fell victim to the irrational and unjust cries for evacuation, segregation, and internment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast and even here in Hawai‘i.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any and all people from military areas as deemed necessary and desirable. By June, more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including more than 1,300 here in Hawai‘i — most of them American citizens — lost their property and were relocated to internment camps built by the U.S. military scattered across the country.
At first, the War Department classified the Nisei soldiers as 4-C, “enemy aliens,” unfit for service. Even as our country turned its back on Japanese Americans, all of you veterans felt a deep obligation and were grateful to the land of your birth and were eager to prove your loyalty.
Like many others, my dad, Bobby Tokio Ige, volunteered and became a member of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. During World War II, 14,000 men volunteered from across the country, most of them from right here in Hawai‘i. Some would never to return home.
In October 1944, in eastern France, Texans of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, were surrounded and outnumbered by a well-entrenched enemy. Isolated for six days, supplies low and casualties mounting, the situation was bleak. Two attempts to save them were turned back by German forces.
The 442nd had earned a 10-day break after sustained battles to liberate the French towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine. After the first day of rest, they were ordered to battle to assist the 141st Infantry Regiment. After five days of intense fighting, you broke through with a fierce and fearless “Go For Broke” charge uphill and fought through to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry. A total of 211 men were rescued while you suffered more than 800 (Editor: battle records document over 400) casualties in the battle.
The rescue of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Mountains of France is considered one of the greatest battles of the war, and I was glad to see, Kenny, that your father talked a little bit about that (in the video).
Like many of you, my father rarely spoke about his experiences in the war. But he consistently celebrated October 29 as his lucky day. And while he was alive, I never understood what was so special about October 29. It was only after he passed away and we were going through preparations for his funeral services that I learned that he had earned his Purple Heart on October 29, 1944, in the battle to save the “Lost Battalion.” Although he carried the scars of his injuries to his leg and his back for the rest of his life, he felt fortunate to have been there and survived.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team remains today one of the most decorated combat units in the nearly 250-year history of our country. A unit that averaged little more than 4,500 soldiers at any one time earned seven presidential unit citations — five of them earned in one month, and an incredible 18,000-plus individual awards, including almost 9,500 Purple Hearts and 21 Medals of Honor.
In 1946, President Truman, at a ceremony awarding the 442nd its seventh Presidential Unit Citation, said, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won. Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win, to make this great Republic stand for just what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all the people all of the time.”
Upon your return home after the war, you continued your commitment to Hawai‘i and America — and directed your energy into ensuring that we always work to create that “more perfect union” that the forefathers of our country envisioned in the Constitution . . . a community where differences are acknowledged, respected and celebrated, for everyone — no matter your race, religion or color of skin — is entitled to pursue life, liberty and happiness . . . a community where the value of education and family were ingrained into our very being . . . a community that understands that when we work together we can do great things . . . a place that so many of us are proud to call “home.”
This gift lives on in your legacy because of your sacrifices and your hard work. We can realize this vision and move forward to overcome the many challenges that face us today.
These rights govern us and have been our beacon. They have shaped our values and mean so much to us, especially all of the sons and daughters of the 442nd.
Overcoming adversity is our life story and moving forward — not backward — is now more important than ever.
As you know, when the president had issued his recent executive order that clearly discriminated on the basis of ethnic origin and religion, I felt compelled to challenge that order. I have been inspired by all of the work that you have done in the 74 years since volunteering to serve in the 442nd, and the courts agreed with us and we won.
Because of you we are educated, experienced and rewarded for our merits, no matter the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes or the religion we choose. We travel the world exchanging our thoughts and ideas with others. The same is true for our children. We are free to make our own choices for our families, our lifestyles and our professions.
Because of you, we are making changes affecting not only Hawai‘i, but the world. Your devotion and unwavering loyalty to country, family and community have changed the world for the better.
I am who I am because of you, and because of you, I will never forget. Okagesama de . . . Aloha and mahalo.