Texans proudly “remember the Alamo,” but few remember the importance of the Battle for the Lost Battalion. Arthur Sakamoto, professor of sociology and Population Research Center affiliate at The University of Texas at Austin, wants to change that.
In honor of the Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought in the bloody World War II battle-including his own father-Sakamoto is starting an undergraduate scholarship called the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund.
The Lost Battalion, also known as the “Alamo” Regiment for its lineage that traces back to the Texas Revolution, was a battalion of 275 soldiers from Texas. Trapped behind enemy lines on a steep ridge in the forest east of Biffontaine, France, they were cut off from the rest of their regiment and completely surrounded by Germans.
The 442nd was charged with the mission to rescue the cut-off battalion, even though they had just spent the entire previous week fighting to free two nearby towns. Engaged in the heaviest fighting they had seen in the war, the soldiers battled the elements as well as the Germans; dense fog and very dark nights prevented the men from seeing even twenty feet ahead of them. Rainfall, snow, cold, mud, and fatigue, plagued them as they slowly crept closer to the German frontlines.
When they could inch no closer, there was nothing left to do but charge up steep slopes, shouting, firing from the hip, and lobbing hand grenades into enemy dugouts Finally, the 442 soldiers broke the German defenses, allowing them to reach the 141st, rescuing 211 Texas soldiers at the cost of 800 Japanese American casualties in just 5 days.
“Since I was young I have heard the battle mentioned by members of my family because my father fought in it,” Sakamoto says. “For its size and length of service, the 442nd is the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history. [Yet] the 442nd does not seem to be as widely known as it once was.”
Sakamoto hopes this scholarship will once again raise awareness and respect for the Japanese American men who faithfully, and voluntarily served their country in a time when their family and friends were rounded up and placed in internment camps despite their American citizenship-their only crime being their physical likeness and extended familial ties to the enemy.
“We just wanted to join to prove that we are loyal Americans,” one veteran of the 442nd recently told NBC cameras during a recent news segment on the regiment, echoing a line from the Japanese American creed: Although some individuals may discriminate against me, I shall never become bitter or lose faith, for I know that such persons are not representative of the majority of the American people.
The bravery of the 442nd not only saved the lives of captured American soldiers, but as news of their heroism spread, it helped Japanese Americans to begin to gain acceptance as full-fledged Americans. In 1963, the soldiers of the 442nd were named “Honorary Texans” by the Texas state legislature for their actions.
During a widely publicized ceremony in 1946, President Harry S. Truman stood outside in the rain to welcome the returning heroes of the 442nd, saying “You’ve fought not only the enemy, but you’ve fought prejudice, and you’ve won. Keep up that fight, and we’ll continue to win to make this Great Republic stand for just what its Constitution says that it stands for, the welfare of all the people, all the time….”
“What the Battle for the Lost Battalion helped to do was to sear into the national psyche the enduring American truth that all U.S. citizens are equal under the law regardless of their race,” Sakamoto says.
In order to promote a greater awareness of this momentous battle in American history, Sakamoto and The University of Texas at Austin are seeking to honor the valor and sacrifices of the brave Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd through the establishment of the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund.
Sakamoto’s hope is that the scholarship will become operational by 2014, which will be the 70th anniversary of the battle. The goal is to raise $25,000 for an endowment, whose income will be used to support scholarships for deserving undergraduate students in the College of Liberal Arts.
To learn more about supporting the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund please contact Professor Arthur Sakamoto , (512) 232-6338 or Assistant Dean Kathleen Aronson , Office of Development at the College of Liberal Arts at (512) 475-9763.
Top image: Army portrait of Arthur Sakamoto Sr.
MIddle image: Arthur Sakamoto Sr. in the foreground holding a book
Bottom image: 442nd Regimental Combat Team Patch
Courtesy of Molly Wahlberg