The 100th Infantry Battalion of Japanese American soldiers from Hawaii arrived on the beaches of Salerno, Italy, in September 1943, and fought through a bitter winter toward Rome. It suffered tremendous casualties at Monte Cassino, a mountaintop monastery occupied by the Germans, earning the nickname The Purple Heart Battalion.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a brigade-sized unit composed of Japanese Americans, arrived in Italy in the spring of 1944.
The 100th became the 442nd's first battalion, and, assigned to the 5th Army Division, the 442nd drove the German army north of the Arno River.
The soldiers spent the fall of 1944 in northeastern France with the 36th Infantry Division in the forests of the Vosges Mountains, ultimately liberating the French towns of Bruyeres, Belmont and Biffontaine.
Though battle weary, the Nisei soldiers were ordered to the front lines to rescue the trapped 211 soldiers of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Texas Division. The 442nd lost two to three times as many soldiers as they saved in that contest, dubbed the Battle of the Lost Battalion.
In late March, the 442nd's 522nd Field Artillery Battalion helped liberate Jewish survivors from a sub camp of Dachau Concentration Camp. The next month, the 442nd returned to Italy to help the 5th Army breach the German Gothic Line that had blocked the Allied advance for six months, according to the National Veterans Network, a coalition of groups that is helping to organize the events in Washington.
"The 442nd broke through the German defenses at Mount Folgorito in less than a day and in the next three weeks forced the German army to retreat north to the Po Valley, where it finally surrendered on May 2, 1945," the network says on its website.
The congressman who initiated this week's Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for the Japanese American vets, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, put it this way in an email:
"These brave troops enlisted and fought to protect our nation despite segregated training conditions, the relocation of families and friends to internment camps and repeated questions about their combat abilities. Man for man they were the most highly decorated combat units of the war," Schiff said.