In the current issue of Preservation magazine, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there was a short interview with George Takei, of “Star Trek” fame, about his time spent as a child at the Rohwer internment camp in Arkansas during World War II. The interview itself is worth a read as Takei spoke eloquently about the need to preserve and learn about the camp’s role in American history. But it was his brief mention of the 442nd regimental combat team that caught my eye. Takei described them as “young men who went from behind American barbed-wire fences to fight with amazing heroism.” Who were they?
Preservation was equally interested and, in December of last year, offered an online blog post to delve more into their history. About 14,000 men served in the unit (including the late senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii). It went on to become “the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in American military history,” according to historynet.com, of the Weider History Group. The team was activated in early 1943 and eventually made its way to theater in parts of the Mediterranean and Europe, according to The 442nd Regimental Combat Team Historical Society. Over 600 soldiers were killed in action and thousands wounded.
Takei noted a breathtaking truth: “American flags that covered their coffins were delivered back to their parents or their wives still imprisoned. The irony of that [is] just unbearable.” The now barren site of the Rohwer internment camp includes a cemetery and memorials erected, incredibly, by internees during their time at the camp. The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and became a National Historic Landmark almost 30 years later, in 1992, according to the Preservation blog post. A three-year restoration project has begun on one of the monuments, shaped like a tank. The Go for Broke National Education Center, named after the unit’s motto and dedicated to honoring their story, established a monument in Los Angeles in the 1990s and is working on collecting oral histories of these soldiers. As Donald Nose, president of the Center, explained to Preservation, with fewer than 3,000 Japanese-American veterans of units like the 442nd still living, carrying their story of fortitude and patriotism into the 21st century is more important than ever.