History, Intern Update

Remembering Asian American Service Members

By Madeline Sumida, Fall 2012 Intern

Veterans Day is a time to honor the men and women in the United States military. Asian immigrants to the United States have served in American conflicts since the War of 1812, but for many years federal legislation prevented most from becoming citizens. Even Asians American citizens did not see significant change in social and legal racism until after World War II, which marked a turning point for Asians in the United States military.

During WWII, Asian Americans enlisted in unprecedented numbers. The mass demonstration of patriotism despite the detrimental political conditions established by United States enabled Asian American soldiers to transform racist attitudes towards them and their communities. Korean, Chinese, and Filipino Americans  volunteered to show their support for the United States by enlisting in the armed services. Chinese Americans pointed to their contributions in the war effort in order to pressure Congress to repeal Chinese exclusion legislation. Filipino fighters in Bataan and Corregidor won the respect of both the American military and civilian society—in February 1943, 1200 Filipino soldiers gained U.S. citizenship in recognition for their service. The unparalleled heroism of the Nisei veterans of the 442nd/100th battalion and the Military Intelligence Service caused many white citizens to recognize the injustice of the United States government’s internment of Japanese Americans.

This monument honors the members of the 442nd who lost their lives during the World War II battle at Biffontaine. It is located National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Items in the Smithsonian collection, such as this monument (pictured above) to the 442nd Combat Team’s sacrifices to liberate French territory from Nazi German control, remind us of the Asian American role in U.S. military history. Today, we continue to honor the service and sacrifices of Asian Americans in the military.


  • McClain, John. “Tortuous Path, Elusive Goal: The Asian Quest for American Citizenship.” Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository, 1995.
  • Takaki, Ronald. Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II. Boston, MA: Back Bay Books, 2001.

3 thoughts on “Remembering Asian American Service Members

    • Craig E. Hirai says:

      Ms. Sumida – I appreciate your summary as regards Asian American veterans and Veterans Day, 2012. Unfortunately, the plight of Japanese-Americans civilians during WWII has been forgotten or not publicized enough for the current generations of Americans. My mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins spent many years in the internment camps authorized by President Roosevelt under Executive Order 9066. Many of the young people today have never heard about the forced evacuation of the West Coast of 110,000 Japanese Americans, 62% who were American citizens. My father served 24 years on active duty in the US Army starting before Pearl Harbor and spent 4 years in combat areas of the Pacific theater. The Smithsonian once had an excellent exhibit of life of the Japanese Americans in the interment camps, but that exhibit has long disappeared. So too has the plight of Japanese Americans during WWII disappeared from the collective memory of this country.

      The article you cited from the Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository, was written by Charles J. McClain, not to be confused with Sen. John McCain.

      • Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center says:

        Dear Mr. Hirai–

        Thank you for responding to the blog post and for the correction in the first name of Charles J. McClain. I certainly agree that not nearly enough attention has been given to Japanese American soldiers–or, for that matter, soldiers of a variety of Asian ethnicities who fought in the U.S. armed forces during the Second World War. My great-grandparents and grandparents lived in the internment camps. My grandfather served in the Military Intelligence Service and his brothers also served in the MIS and the 442nd. The Asian Pacific American Center is working on several projects that will feature Japanese Americans. Also, you may be interested in the APAC website’s updates on the Nisei Congressional Gold Medal. Part of the APAC’s mission is to revive the memory of Japanese American veterans so that they may inspire and be honored by younger generations.

        – Madeline Sumida

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