In 2016, the United States commemorated the 75th anniversary of the imperial Japanese naval attack on Pearl Harbor, the event which led to America’s involvement in World War II. Pearl Harbor served as a catalyst for many Americans eager to enlist and defend their county; it also brought to light anti-Japanese sentiment. Within three months of the attack, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the incarceration of Japanese American citizens to prison camps in the wastelands of the American West. In spite of their incarceration without due process, Japanese Americans were eventually permitted to volunteer for the army. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of Japanese American volunteers from the mainland and Hawaii, was established in 1943 and entered the European Theater in 1944.
Honor Before Glory: The Epic World War II Story of the Japanese American GIs Who Rescued the Lost Batallion by Scott McGaugh follows members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from the United States to Europe, focusing on their rescue of the “Lost Batallion,” the 1st Batallion of the 141st Infantry. What emerges is a crisp, hyper-focused narrative that profiles the tenacity of both groups of soldiers and their commanding officers against the brutal conditions of war in Europe.
McGaugh, who has roots as a journalist and currently serves as marketing director of the USS Midway Museum, writes intimately about the soldiers of the 44nd. The regiment’s motto, “Go For Broke” (from a Hawaiian gambler’s slang term) is a testament to each soldier’s willingness to put everything on the line. Among the characters McGaugh focuses on are Jim Okubo, a medic who was awarded a Silver Star (and posthumously a Medal of Honor) for his heroism on the battlefield, remarkable considering the more than 4,000 soldiers killed, wounded, and missing in action during the 442nd’s service. There’s also automatic rifleman Barney Hajiro, who distinguished himself in battle by ambushing an 18-man enemy patrol together with a comrade and singlehandedly destroying two German machine gun replacements in a “banzai run”; Hajiro also received a Medal of Honor and a Distinguished Service Cross. Pfc. Matsuji “Mutt” Sakumoto, who was the first solder to break through enemy territory to get to the 1/141st Infantry, is profiled for his courage.
There are also the commanding officers: Captain Martin Higgins, whose battalion was surrounded in the Vosges Mountains, and General John Dahlquist, who lead the 442nd through the heaviest fighting they had seen in war. McGaugh pulls no punches at describing the horrors of trench warfare, from the hazardous terrain and weather conditions to the indignities of fatigue and trench foot. He also pulls no punches when describing the post-war analysis of that battle strategy to reach the Lost Battalion. 160 soldiers of the 442nd died and 1,220 were killed in action in less than a month, and the operation had suffered from difficult terrain and haphazard use of armor (source).
Despite these casualties and the horrors of war, the 442nd was recognized for their service, becoming the most decorated unit for its size and period of service in American warfare. The unit earned 9,486 Purple Hearts, eight Presidential Unit Citations (including five earned in one month), and twenty-one Medals of Honor. They also received a Congressional Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in 2010.
At the end of the war in 1946, the 442nd met with President Harry Truman, who presented them with their seventh Presidential Unit Citation. Truman congratulated the soldiers, telling them “My predecessor said that Americanism is not a matter of race or creed, it is a matter of the heart . . . . You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice — and you have won.” It would be forty-two years until President Ronald Reagan would sign the Civil Liberties Act, which offered reparations to Japanese Americans placed in prison camps.
As a recount of a historical event, Honor Before Glory is an engrossing read. Through focusing on the 442nd and one particular rescue, McGaugh crafts a deeply personal take that highlights the personal sacrifices and brings to light one of the Japanese American wartime experiences. It reflects their legacy in the best ways.
Honor Before Glory is available in print, as an ebook, and as an audio book.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Honor Before Glory” in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions on this book are my own and are not influenced by the author, the publisher, or any of its affiliates.