The attack on Pearl Harbor was a disaster felt across the United States, but from that monumental tragedy came tales of heroics and patriotism. Stories like that of the Varsity Victory Volunteers, a band of Japanese-American college students who stepped up to defend the country that would soon turn on them.

Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) students were called for active military duty to serve as the Hawaii Territorial Guard (HTG). With a rifle and five bullets, the HTG was charged with protecting important points on the island, including schools and pumping stations. Considering the ROTC students were virtually all local residents, it was inevitable that many of them would be of Japanese descent, and when the US government realized this fact, the formation of the Varsity Victory Volunteers was set in motion.

Disbanding the HTG

Japanese American Exclusion Order

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, anyone with Japanese ancestry was considered a 4c-“enemy alien” and, therefore, unable to serve in any American military unit. They were dismissed back to their campus, where Hung Wai Ching, a businessman and community leader, came up with the idea to have the demobilized students create a volunteer labor battalion.

Two months after the attack, while many Japanese-Americans were being placed in internment camps, the students received a reply to their petition sent to Military Governor Delos C. Emmons, and the Varsity Victory Volunteers was formed.

 

 

 

The VVV

Assigned to Schofield Barracks under the US Army Corps of Engineers 34th Combat Engineers Regiment, the Varsity Victory Volunteers were divided into 12 labor forces, each one given its own task. Though the general feeling in the United States was one of distrust of anyone with Japanese ancestry, the efforts of the VVV earned the trust of others stationed at Schofield.

A year after the attack on Pearl Harbor and 10 months into their service as the VVV, the squad received a visit from Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, who revealed plans for a regiment made up entirely from volunteers of Japanese ancestry. It didn’t take long for the VVV to disband and join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The 442nd Infantry Regiment

President Truman salutes members of the 442nd

The Pearl Harbor attack caused a rift between many Americans and their neighbors of Japanese descent, but that didn’t stop the 442nd—which was made up primarily of soldiers of Japanese ancestry—from fighting hard on the United States’ behalf.

Taking up arms in the European Theater, the 4,000-plus-strong unit adopted the motto “Go for Broke” and fought against the Axis forces. By the end of the World War II, over 14,000 men had served in the 442nd Infantry and, overall, the regiment earned over 9,000 purple hearts and 21 Medals of Honor, making it one the most decorated units of the war.

Though they served the United States with distinction, when many of the men returned home they were still met with anti-Japanese sentiment. Back on Hawaiian soil, members of the regiment launched a movement that aimed at putting veterans of the 442nd—including US Senator Daniel K. Inouye—into public office.

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