Historical Overview

The Asian American designation encompasses a diverse set of ethnic or language groups of Asian descent. These groups include Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Indian Americans, Laotian Americans, Cambodian Americans, Hmong Americans, Thai Americans, Pakistani Americans, among others.

Pacific Islander refers to people with ancestors originating from Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people, who indicate their race or races as Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, Tahitian, Mariana Islander, Chuukese, or other Pacific Islander.

Many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have ancestry in a number of different cultures.

Wars and Conflicts

Civil War

In the first half of the 19th century, many people from Asia, particularly Chinese, immigrated to the United States, where opportunities for employment were abundant. This was clearly a condition consistent with a nation that was growing not only geographically but economically as well. By the start of the Civil War, thousands of Asians were living in the United States. Many served with distinction in the U.S. Army.

World War I

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many people from East Asia chose to immigrate to the United States, where opportunities for work and a better life beckoned. Despite numerous instances of discrimination, many Asian Americans joined the U.S. Army and served with distinction during World War I on the battlefields of France. Following the war, Soldiers of Asian ancestry were recognized for their contributions to the war effort and were allowed to become naturalized citizens. By the end of World War I in 1918, there were nearly 180,000 Asian Americans living in the United States, including about 100,000 Japanese Americans, 60,000 Chinese Americans and 5,000 Filipino Americans.

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World War II

At the start of World War II in 1941, more than a quarter-million Asian Americans were living in the United States. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese Americans were perceived as a threat to national security based solely on their ethnic ancestry. Consequently, on March 18, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority. Thousands of Japanese Americans were moved involuntarily to internment camps created throughout the United States. Despite being subjected to prejudice and discrimination, a large number of Nisei (first generation Japanese Americans born in the United States) volunteered for service in the U.S. Army. These Soldiers served with great honor in the European and North African campaigns. Their feats of courage, particularly in the Italian campaign, are legendary. Other Asian American groups also answered the call to duty and served with great distinction in the European and Pacific theaters - many taking part in the liberation of their ancestral homelands.

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The Bataan Death March

The Battle of Bataan ended, April 9, 1942, when U.S. Gen. Edward P. King surrendered to Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma. At that point, 75,000 Soldiers became prisoners of war: about 12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos. What followed was one of the worst atrocities in modern wartime history - the Bataan Death March. During the Battle of Bataan, the American Soldiers and Filipino soldiers of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, or USAFFE, had held out for four months against the Imperial Japanese Army, while every other island and nation in the Pacific and Southeast Asia fell to the Japanese. By March 1942, Japan controlled all of the Western Pacific except the Philippines.

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Korean War

In the years following World War II, Asian Americans gained greater acceptance in American society - thanks in large measure to their outstanding contributions to the war effort. A large number of World War II veterans remained in the U.S. Army during the Korean War (1950-1953). As combat veterans, they helped to train and lead new Soldiers, which included additional Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into combat against the communist North Korean and Chinese forces.

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Vietnam War

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders assumed an even greater role and acceptance in American society and culture. In 1956, Dalip Singh from California, became the first Asian American elected to Congress. In 1962, Daniel K. Inouye from Hawaii, was elected to the Senate, and Spark Matsunaga from Hawaii, to the House. Two years later, Patsy Takemoto Mink from Hawaii, was elected to the House, becoming the first Asian American woman in Congress. By 1965, immigration law finally abolished national origins as the basis for allocating immigration quotas, giving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders full legal equality with other groups. The war in Vietnam was intensifying and as in past wars, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders answered the call to duty - serving with great distinction.

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Gulf War

In 1979, the United States and its erstwhile World War II ally, China, resumed diplomatic relations. In 1980, more than 2.5 million Asian immigrants entered the United States. In 1990, the number of U.S. immigrants from Asia was second only to Latin America. Many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders joined the U.S. Army - where they contributed immeasurably to the security of the United States and to the end of the Cold War. Many were promoted to senior officer ranks, including some to general officer. In 1991, Asian American and Pacific Islander Soldiers fought valiantly during Operation Desert Storm (also known as the Gulf War), helping to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's invasion forces from Iraq.

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Operation Iraqi Freedom & Enduring Freedom

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were among the victims and heroes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As America's resolve led way to the current overseas contingency operations, as in wars past, many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders answered the call of duty to defend America by serving in the U.S. Army.

In May 2003, President Bush expressed his gratitude to Asian American and Pacific Islander citizens and Soldiers, proclaiming that "the values and traditions of the Asian/Pacific-American community; love of family, entrepreneurship, excellence in education, and community service have strengthened us as a nation. Generations of Asian-Pacific Americans have proudly served our nation with honor and courage in wars and conflicts, including most recently in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Today, as in the past, their dedication and service to advancing peace in a troubled world upholds the values that make our country strong."

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Military Unit and Program history

442nd Regimental Combat Team

442nd Regimental Combat Team insignia

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service during the entire history of the U.S. military. The 4,000 men, who initially came in April 1943, had to be replaced nearly 3.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations.

The motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was "go for broke." It is a gambling term that means risking everything on one great effort to win big. The Soldiers of the 442nd needed to win big. They were Nisei - American-born sons of Japanese immigrants. They fought two wars: the Germans in Europe and the prejudice in America.

The motto was invented by the high-rolling Nisei Soldiers, who came from the Hawaiian islands. The Hawaii-born Nisei, also known as "Buddhaheads," made up about two-thirds of the regiment. The remaining third were Nisei from the mainland. In April 1943, the islanders and mainlanders arrived for training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Immediately, they fought with each other because of different perspectives based on where they grew up.

The Army discharged all the Japanese Americans in the ROTC - and changed their draft status to 4C - "enemy alien," Jan. 19, 1942. The Nisei cadets felt such despair that the very bottom of their existence fell out. But community leaders convinced the demoralized students to turn the other cheek. One hundred and seventy students petitioned the military governor saying, "Hawaii is our home; the United States our country. We know but one loyalty and that is to the stars and stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans in every way possible, and we hereby offer ourselves for whatever service you may see fit to use us."

In 1944, the 100th Infantry Battalion became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Source: Go For Broke

100th Infantry Battalion

100th Infantry Battalion insignia

"Remember Pearl Harbor" - that was the motto of the 100th Infantry Battalion. The men were there on that day of infamy, when Japan bombed their city, harbor, country and home. At that time, the men were loyally serving in the Hawaii National Guard. They guarded the shores, cleared the rubble, donated their blood, and aided the wounded.

The 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) was activated, June 12, 1942, composed of more than 1,400 American-born Japanese called "Nisei"(NEE-say), or second generation. The War Department had removed them from Hawaii out of fear of renewed Japanese attacks. The War Department had also stopped accepting Nisei for military service. The battalion commander and some of the company-grade officers were Caucasian; the rest of its officers and enlisted men were Nisei. After training at Camp McCoy, Wis., and Camp Shelby, Miss., the battalion deployed to the Mediterranean in August 1943.

Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army (KATUSA)

The severe shortage of front-line Soldiers led to the formation of KATUSA during the Korean War. They were Korean stragglers who joined U.S. Army units in the battlefield, primarily for rations; some also acted as interpreters and enhanced U.S. combat readiness.

The KATUSA program was initiated during July 1950 by an informal agreement between South Korean President Rhee Syng-man and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Sixty years have passed since the agreement but the KATUSA program still continues due to the commitment for freedom and democracy by both nations.

The U.S. Army's Philippine Scouts

Philippine Scouts insignia

These were Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Soldiers, who fought America's first battle of World War II - the Philippine Division - probably the best trained and possibly the best prepared U.S. Army division at the outset of the war.

Some of them were farm boys from California and Kansas, and Italian Americans from New Jersey, as depicted in the black and white movies made during and after World War II. However, many of them were professional Filipino soldiers serving in the U.S. Army, commanded by American officers. They were special men in special units, officially designated Philippine scouts, a term applied both to the Filipino enlisted men and to their American officers. For a young Filipino man, acceptance into the Philippine scouts was a distinct honor - as was service in the scout units for American officers.

The Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, but Pearl Harbor was only part of a much bigger Japanese operation that day. On Dec. 7, the Japanese not only sank the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, they also bombed the U.S. Army's B-17 bomber base at Clark Field in the Philippines, attacked British Hong Kong, and landed troops on the shores of British Malaya. The four attacks were coordinated to begin at the same moment, but because of weather problems, the U.S. Navy's battleships were already sinking to the bottom of Pearl Harbor by the time Japanese bombers destroyed the American fighters and bombers on the ground at Clark Field.

The Japanese invasion of the Philippines was the first action of World War II in which units of the U.S. Army faced the enemy on the ground. MacArthur had his entire Army withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula and to Corregidor Island to hold off the enemy until the U.S. Navy could bring reinforcements and supplies. The Philippine Scouts, side-by-side with U.S. National Guard and Philippine army infantry units, defeated the Japanese army in numerous actions in the interior and on the coastlines of Bataan. Survivors of the Battle of Bataan, to a man, describe the Philippine scouts as the backbone of the American defense there. President Franklin Roosevelt awarded the U.S. Army's first three Congressional Medals of Honor of World War II to Philippine scouts: Sgt. Jose Calugas for action at Culis, Bataan on Jan. 6, 1942; Lt. Alexander Nininger for action near Abucay, Bataan on Jan. 12; and Lt. Willibald Bianchi for action near Bagac, Bataan on Feb. 3, 1942.

By March 1942, the Japanese army had marched through Southeast Asia and completely overrun every country and island in the western Pacific with the exception of the Philippines. The Philippines, and MacArthur's army, were alone. On the Bataan peninsula of Luzon Island, the Philippine scouts, a few U.S. Army National Guard units, and 10 divisions of poorly equipped, almost untrained Philippine army soldiers held out for four months against the Japanese.

With the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor in shambles, and the Japanese navy blockading the Philippines, there was no way for America to get reinforcements, food or medicine to the troops on Bataan. Nonetheless, they held out while malaria, dysentery and malnutrition ravaged their ranks, and Japanese attacks drove them further down the Bataan peninsula.

Fresh Japanese troops began a crushing attack on the U.S. forces on Bataan, April 3, 1942. Although the men fought bravely, the Battle of Bataan ended, April 9, 1942, when Gen. Edward King surrendered rather than see any more of his starving, diseased men slaughtered by the advancing Japanese army. At that point, 75,000 men became prisoners of war - about 12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos. What followed was one of the worst atrocities in modern wartime history - the Bataan Death March.

In the Philippines, a strong guerrilla movement developed to fight Japanese oppression. Philippine scout officers and enlisted men, who had escaped from the Japanese, and others who chose to ignore their parole terms, joined these clandestine groups to do what they could to hasten the return of U.S. forces. Contrary to the impression many of us get from our history textbooks, help was not on the way. MacArthur had his forces, such as they were, engaged around the Solomon Islands and New Guinea to protect Australia from Japanese attack. It was not until 1944 that MacArthur, in the south, and Admiral Nimitz, to the east, commenced their two-pronged advance into the Pacific. But during the interim years, the Philippine guerrillas put together a close network to gather intelligence data on Japanese troop movements and shipping, and transmit it to MacArthur's headquarters using radios smuggled in by submarine. It has been said that their information was so complete, that when MacArthur finally did make it back to the Philippines, he knew what every Japanese lieutenant ate for breakfast and where he had his hair cut.

As MacArthur's forces, supported by the guerrillas, rolled into the Philippine Islands, men began to come out of hiding. The Philippine scouts, some who were members of the guerrilla forces, some who were not, stepped forward and rejoined the U.S. Army. Other Filipino guerrillas joined them and the Army set up new Philippine scout units. The new scouts actively participated in combat against the Japanese army in north Luzon, and served as military police to restore order and help locate pockets of escaped Japanese in the south. As planning for the invasion of Japan progressed, the Philippine scouts were included in the invasion forces and began training for what was expected to be the bloodiest struggle of World War II.