Internment Archives

Japanese Americans Get Affirmative Action Medals Of Honor

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Senator Akaka’s amendment was specific in that the only persons whose DSC awards were to be reviewed were to be Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. No Caucasian awardees of the DSC were to be considered for upgrading. Another unique provision was that the three year statute of limitations which heretofore had been applied to all award reviews was specifically waive for this particular review and for only this particular ethnic group.  The “affirmative action” preferential aspect of the review process was thus made abundantly clear.

The Navy found only one Asian-American Navy Cross awardee who might be a possible candidate and quickly decided that no upgrade to Medal of Honor was warranted. With far greater numbers of Asian-American Distinguished Service Cross winners in the Army, however, the Secretary of the Army assigned the review of all such WW II awards to the Command History Office of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, Presidio of Monterey, California.  There a team of Army historians was formed under the direction of civilian Army historian James C. McNaughton. One-half million dollars was budgeted for the project.

The review team was charged only with identifying the DSC recipients and with locating the original recommendations by which the DSC awards had been made during WW II.  The team was not charged with making recommendations for upgrades. That responsibility was assigned to Defense Department officials in Washington.  After working through 1997 and most of 1998, the Presidio review team identified a total of 104 Asian-American DSC recipients whose names together with original award recommendations were forwarded to Washington for upgrade consideration.

At this point it seems appropriate to examine the statistical background of awards to various Army units during World War II. What do the numbers tell us as to reasons (if any) for suspicion of racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in the award of either the Distinguished Service Cross or the Medal of Honor?  Is it reasonable to assume, as is evident from the discourse preceding the establishment of this upgrade review, that unless there is a proportional numerical relationship between the number of DSC’s awarded and the number of Medals of Honor received in a combat unit such as the 100/442 RCT, there must be evidence of racial discrimination? Let’s take a look at some numbers.

There were 11,260,000 total Army personnel serving in World War II.  Of that number, there were, according to the aforementioned Command History Office, 145,000 Asian-Americans, including 100,000 Filipinos who served under U.S. command.  Accordingly, the ratio of Asian-Americans to others who served was 0.0128 or just over 1%.  Total DSC’s awarded for valor in WW II Army service was 4,434.  Total Asian-American DSC winners were 104.  The Asian-American DSC award ratio was thus 0.0234 of all Army DSC awards.  Representing only 1% of the troops, the Asian-Americans received 2% of the Distinguished Service Cross awards. Where was the discrimination?  If anything the number of DSC’s awarded Asian-Americans reveals just the opposite – they received more than their proportionate number in the award process.  In the words of Army historian McNaughton: “Even in segregated units such as the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), white officers made sure that their Japanese American soldiers received full recognition for valor.”

Now let us look at the relationship of Distinguished Service Crosses to Medals of Honor. Twenty of the of the 22  recent upgrades went to members of the 100/442nd RCT.  If, as seems clear, the proponents of the recent upgrades believe that the Asian-Americans should have received Medals of Honor in proportion to the number of their DSC’s awarded, and inasmuch as Asian-Americans in the 100/442nd  received 47 DSC’s or 1% of all DSC’s awarded by the Army in WW II, a consistent conclusion would be that the 100/442nd, which received only 1 Medal of Honor, should have received 3, or 1% of the 301 total of Army Medals of Honor awarded.  But instead of 2 additional, 21 additional Medals of Honor were awarded to the 100/442nd RCT by the upgrade.  Again we see Asian-Americans, who had already been awarded a proportionately larger number of DSC’s, now receiving 10 times the number of Medals of Honor as would be justified under their DSC award ratio.  Were the heroes of the 100/442nd ten times more deserving of Medals of Honor for bravery as those in other combat regiments?  That would seem unlikely.


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