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Letters from the 442nd: The World War II Correspondence of a Japanese American Medic (Scott and Laurie Oki Series in Asian American Studies) Paperback – June 25, 2008
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"[Letters from the 442nd] offers..a unique and compelling account of what the men of the 442nd experienced on and off the battlefield. Thanks to army censorship and concern for his wife's feelings, Masuda put little blood and guts in his letters. But they richly and movingly detail the medic's everyday life."―The Journal of Military History
"Min's poignant, but often amusing, wartime experiences, together with Hana's occasional commentary, enable us to gain a much fuller picture of WWII sacrifices by this young Japanese American couple."―Asian American Comparative Collection Newsletter
"Minoru Masuda's Letters from the 442nd are priceless mementos of service and sacrifice from a man who, if he had been of lesser character, might feel entitled to act out understandable bitterness. Readers will cherish and find inspiration in his gentle humor, keen insights and colorful observations of America at war not only abroad, but at home against some of its own citizens."―The Advocate
"One of the most powerful and affecting historical works I have encountered. The beauty, charm, and pervasive intelligence of Minoru Masuda's letters are nicely anchored by historical material provided by the editors."―Arthur A. Hansen, Director, Center for Oral and Public History, California State University-Fullerton
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My father was also a volunteer for the 442nd and was also assigned to be a medic, although he was from Hawaii and was posted within the U.S. Many years after the war, Senator Spark Matsunaga intervened to get the soldiers' confiscated wartime diaries returned, and when I read my father's brief descriptions, there was the same tone as in Min's letters --- the suppressed apprehension of a young man going to war, description of the banal diversion of forgettable movies, mention of friends & relatives, and cryptic references to the work at hand.
Above all, what strikes me in Min's narrative is the simple earnestness of a young man living out an epic drama one day at a time.
He was usually ignorant of the strategy that moved his unit around the Mediterranean theater. He did his job patching up the wounded with self-effacing modesty. He shared conversation and music and cooking with his buddies. He was sometimes bored. He did not seem to mind admitting to his wife that he enjoyed getting glimpses of young women. He sympathetically witnessed the hardships of Italian and French civilians.
Importantly, he respected people and did not forget it:
"Once in a while we have to treat German wounded and they're all so pitifully young looking, eighteen, nineteen, and twenty. ... no matter how much we may hate them, for they are the enemy and have killed our men, when they come in battered and pierced by our fire, I still feel that they should be treated and we do just as good a job as if on our own men, though naturally the latter must come first."
He only occasionally expressed his disgust at the racism ("prejudice") experienced by Japanese-Americans. Furthermore, he provided a glimpse into his motivation for volunteering to fight for his country even when he and his family had been wrongfully imprisoned, to prove that the assumption of Japanese-American disloyalty was wrong, and because at the end of the day he possessed "an inexplicable tinge of patriotism."
He knew what was important to himself and his fellows: "The constant dream and hope of all of us is to get this war over with and to go home to our loved ones."
He was a devoted correspondent, both during the fighting and after the German surrender. On the few occasions in which he describes events twice, first while they were happening and then after the end of hostilities, it is a revelation to realize how much could not be said the first time, both because of military censorship and to spare his wife anxiety over the dangers of combat.
In addition to editing the letters, his wife and the editor do an admirable job of providing brief contextual descriptions without distracting from Min's own story.
This book is a rewarding perspective into the day-to-day thoughts and feelings of an "ordinary" man who was asked to do much, and who answered in full measure: "In a war living is reduced to its essentials, though we try hard to hang on to whatever ideals we had before, at least what we call civilization."
The idea seems radical today. But at the time it did not appear that way to many people. Regardless, I found myself struck by the patriotism of this man and his colleges and I am forever grateful they liberated my mother’s village in the South of France. No one can deny this unit’s valorous efforts in Italy and France.
The only issue I have with the book is I would have liked to have read more about the direct conflict with the Germans or more of the work the author did. But this collection of letters was to his wife and I suspect he tried to keep her from being worried.
None-the-less this book provides an outstanding look at daily life within the United States. It also provides a great contribution to the history of the 442nd infantry division. Sadly, I have nothing really to compare it to. It truly stands as a one of a kind book.
Including the medical unit log entries is genius. My uncle was in the 2nd Battalion. The addition of the places and movements makes the book even more alive. After 65 years I hear about places such as "Hill 140" when some movie or news story about war started my late uncle talking. That battle left a profound impression on him which did not fade with time.
Hill 140: "The Nisei GIs had to cross the rolling hills, and the already-harvested wheat fields . The Germans could easily see the approaching Americans from their hilltop observation posts. The 100th and 2nd Battalions led the attack. Their objective - Hill 140. The Germans fired their mortars and powerful 88's with devastating accuracy - wounding all the officers in G Company, except for one.
For three days the Nisei fought from their vulnerable position. As the casualties mounted, the men renamed Hill 140 "Little Cassino." The rocky terrain made it hard to dig slit trenches for protection from enemy shelling. Six men in L Company were wiped out from a single shell. Other Nisei were hit by enemy machine-gun and sniper fire.
Yet every man in the 442nd knew that he was not alone. The medics braved enemy fire to patch up the wounded. The Antitank Company carried the wounded. The 232nd Engineers swept for mines and built bypasses to keep the vital supply lines open. The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion fired quickly and accurately to protect the infantry and prevent enemy penetration. After two more days of heavy artillery shelling, the 442nd finally captured Hill 140. "