Moab History: Incarcerees and War Heroes

While Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII, many also fought bravely in the war. The 442ndRegimental Combat Team, a segregated Japanese American military unit, is honored today as the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the US military. 

President Roosevelt activated the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on February 1, 1943, nearly one year after enacting Executive Order 9066, which brought about the incarceration of roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans across the west coast of the United States. Hawaiian-born Nisei made up roughly two-thirds of the regiment, with the remaining third composed of Nisei from the mainland United States. The motto of the unit was “Go for Broke,” a phrase that meant putting everything on the line in an effort to win big. Like other segregated military units, Japanese American fought two battles: one against the Axis powers and one against the prejudice and racism at home. 

: 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Courtesy of the National WWII Museum).

The 442nd consisted of multiple units, including the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, 206th Army Ground Forces Band, an Antitank Company, Cannon Company, Service Company, a medical detachment, and three infantry battalions. True to its motto, the 442nd put everything on the line in the European theater. Fighting for the ideals of freedom and democracy, it fought against 6,000 Nazis to rescue and isolated group of soldiers in what was one of the deadliest battles of the war. Among the 18,000 members of the 442nd are 21 Medal of Honor recipients, including the late Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye (First Lieutenant, U.S. Army). The Unit also boasts 4,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 560 Silver Star Medals, and seven Presidential Unit Citations.

The current temporary exhibition, “A Moab Prison Camp: Japanese American Incarceration in Grand County,” which introduces the local and national story of Japanese American incarceration during WWII, is on display at the Moab Museum until June 29. Stop in to view the exhibition and engage in this troubling history before July!

The Moab Museum is dedicated to sharing stories of the natural and human history of the Moab area. To explore more of Moab’s stories and artifacts, find out about upcoming programs, and become a Member, visit

This article originally appeared in the Moab Sun News’ Moab History Column, written weekly by Museum staff.