Unlike in World War II when there was the Japanese-American 442d RCT, there were no separate Asian-American units during the Korean War. The Department of the Army dropped the designation "Asian-American" after World War II, so even an approximate number for the Korean War has not been determined. But the National Japanese-American Historical Society has estimated that 5,000 Nisei served in Korea with American forces and concluded that 213 of them lost their lives. Several units did remain predominantly Asian-American like the 100th Battalion, 442d Infantry, U.S. Army Reserve and the 5th Regimental Combat Team, both from Hawaii.
When the Korean War began, many Nisei were among the first American troops sent to the peninsula. The United States lacked Korean translators, and because Japanese was the language mandated during Japan's colonial domination of Korea (1910–45), Nisei soldiers were able to provide valuable linguistic support. During the Korean War, Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service served as interpreters, interrogators and translators and provided other linguistic support. During the Korean conflict, there were more Nisei in higher enlisted ranks, in company grade and in field grade ranks than had been the case during World War II.
The war in Korea, which began in 1950 and ended in 1953, claimed 54,000 American lives, making it one of the bloodiest in U.S. history. Among the casualties were more than 240 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were killed or missing in action.
"We were overshadowed by the heroics of the World War II veterans and the controversy in Vietnam," said Bob Wada, president of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans. "Yet to the veterans, the Korean War was just as deadly and real as those other wars."
Just how many Japanese Americans served in the Korean War remains a mystery because of a government classification system that identified Asians of all ethnic backgrounds as "Mongoloids". As a result, he said, the names on the memorial wall were culled based on their Japanese surnames.
During World War II, there was little question about who the Japanese American soldiers were, partly because many found themselves in racially
Photo: Rafu Shimpo
segregated units. Of the 33,000 Japanese Americans who served in World War II, 13,000 were assigned to the segregated 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the rest in military intelligence and other battalions.
Fighting to prove their allegiance to their country at a time when many of their relatives were imprisoned in internment camps, the young Nisei helped the 100th and 442nd become two of the most decorated units in U.S. Army history and transformed themselves into icons among Japanese Americans.
Sources: NJ.gov Fact Sheet, Julie Tamaki