Marseille, France · August 16, 1944

On this date in 1944, two-and-one-half months after the Allies had landed in North­ern France (Opera­tion Over­lord) and one day after thou­sands of service­men from the U.S. Seventh and French First armies had landed by air and sea on the French Rivi­era (Opera­tion Dra­goon), Adolf Hitler reversed him­self and ordered his troops out of Nor­mandy to a new defense line in North­eastern France on the Somme and Marne rivers. The Franco-Ameri­can landings in the south of France opened a second front, pro­viding the Allies with addi­tional and sorely needed port facilities at Marseille and Toulon.

Over the next two months the Allied advance north­ward from the Medi­ter­ranean coast through the French Rhône Valley pushed the Ger­mans toward their own border. The advance came to a halt at the foot­hills of the Vosges Moun­tains in Eastern France due to lack of fuel. There Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch’s U.S. Seventh Army linked up with Gen. George S. Pat­ton’s Third Army moving east from Nor­mandy, to become part of Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s Euro­pean Theater com­mand. In their Vosges Moun­tain for­tress, the toughest ter­rain on the West­ern Front, retreating Wehr­macht soldiers were ordered by Hitler to stand and fight.

The Vosges Moun­tains cam­paign is notable for the rescue of “The Lost Bat­talion,” the 1st Bat­talion, 141st Infan­try, which was sur­rounded by Ger­man forces on Octo­ber 24, 1944. In five days of battle, from Octo­ber 26 to Octo­ber 30, the 442nd Regi­mental Com­bat Team, a unit com­posed of mostly second-genera­tion Japa­nese Ameri­cans (Nisei), broke through Ger­man defenses and rescued about 230 men while suffering over 800 casu­al­ties. (The 442nd is considered to be the most-deco­rated infan­try regi­ment in the history of the U.S. Army. Its record-setting decoration count earned it the nick­name “Purple Heart Battalion.”)

The Allied victory in the monthlong Vosges slug­fest freed Patton to focus on driving east to the Rhine River and striking into the Ger­man heart­land. Hitler, how­ever, had one last ace up his sleeve, which he played in the Ardennes Forest of Bel­gium and Luxem­bourg, site of the Battle of the Bulge in Decem­ber 1944. It was Ger­many’s last-ditch effort to stop the Allied advance into Germany proper, and it failed.

Japanese American Contributions to Winning the War in Europe

442nd Regimental Combat Team in France, late 1944442nd squad leader on alert, France, late 1944

Left: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team hike up a muddy French road, late 1944. The newly formed Nisei 442nd Com­bat Team left the States on May 1, 1944, and landed at Anzio, Italy, on May 28. In August the unit took part in Opera­tion Dra­goon, the inva­sion of South­ern France, and traveled 500 miles up the Rhône Valley, by walking and by rail, until Octo­ber 13, when it reached the Vosges Moun­tains. On Octo­ber 23 the unit, whose motto was “Go For Broke,” was ordered to rescue the “lost bat­talion” of 141st “Alamo Regi­ment” of the 36th (Texas) Division. It cost the 442nd 800 casualties to rescue 230 men.

Right: A 442nd squad leader looks for Ger­man move­ments in a French valley 200 yards away, Novem­ber 1944. The 442nd was the most deco­rated unit for its size and length of ser­vice in the his­tory of Amer­i­can war­fare. Its mem­bers—in total, about 14,000 men—received 18,143 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts. The unit was awarded an unpre­ce­dented eight Presi­dential Unit Cita­tions. Twenty-one of its mem­bers were awarded Medals of Honor, including future sena­tor Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The men of the 442nd Regi­mental Com­bat Team accounted for just over 40 per­cent of the Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. military in World War II.

President Obama authorizes Congressional Gold Medal award, October 2010Go for Broke Monument, Los Angeles, California

Left: When President Harry S. Truman welcomed the return home of the 442nd Regi­men­tal Com­bat Team (Nisei recruits raised on Hawaii and the main­land) and its com­po­nent 100th Infan­try Bat­talion (Nisei soldiers from Hawaii who had enlisted or been drafted before the the war began), he said: “You not only fought the enemy, but you fought pre­ju­dice and you’ve won.” On Octo­ber 5, 2010, Presi­dent Barack Obama signed a bill granting the Con­gres­sional Gold Medal col­lec­tively to the 442nd Regi­men­tal Com­bat Team and the 100th Infan­try Bat­talion in recog­ni­tion of their dedi­cated ser­vice during World War II. The award was also extended to the 6,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­cans who served in the Military Intelligence Service during the war.

Right: The Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, Cali­for­nia com­memo­rates the 33,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­cans who served in the U.S. mili­tary during World War II—the famed 100th In­fan­try Bat­talion and 442nd Regi­mental Com­bat Team, as well as lesser-known Nisei units: the Mili­tary Intel­ligence Service, the 522nd Field Artil­lery Bat­talion, the 232nd Com­bat Engi­neer Com­pany, and the 1399th Engin­eering Con­struc­tion Bat­talion. “Go For Broke!” (craps game lingo) was the unit motto of the 100th Bat­talion and was adopted by the 442nd RCT. It has since been adopted as a motto for all of the Japanese American units formed during World War II.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Rescue of “The Lost Battalion”