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What Is The Most Decorated Military Unit In US History?

The Most Decorated Military Unit


What Is The Most Decorated Military Unit In US History?

In 1944, the most decorated unit in US military history was fighting fiercely on the European front in WW2. You’d be surprised to find out that their families back in the states were in an internment camp of all places. This is because the US’s most decorated military unit was .. Japanese.

100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry

The 442nd Regiment was composed of Japanese-American enlisted men with mostly Caucasian officers. They were a self-sufficient force, and fought in Italy, southern France, and Germany.

The Japanese–Americans who fought in the 442nd were ‘Nisei‘, or second generation citizens, born in the U.S. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, they were initially categorized as enemy aliens. This meant they were not subject to the draft. This also lead to the internment of Japanese citizens while the war raged on. But what to do about the Japanese-American citizens who were already enlisted?


The young “Nisei” Japanese men were eager to fight against the Axis Powers. Eventually, units consisting of only Japanese-Americans were created in the Army. Because of the confusion that would likely arise in the Pacific theater, the Nisei units were to be employed only in the Mediterranean and Europe. go for broke

The 442nd Infantry Regiment was the largest Nisei unit. Fighting in Italy and southern France, the unit was known for its bravery and determination, as reflected by the unit motto, “Go for broke!”

The first all Japanese-American military unit was the 100th Battalion, and it was formed from the Japanese-Americans which were part of the Hawaiian National Guard. These Nisei were sent to Camp McCoy for combat training and later were moved to Camp Shelby for additional training. Eventually adopting the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” as their motto.

The War Department, in need of manpower, changed its mind about keeping them out of combat and sent recruiters to the internment camps, seeking volunteers to form a new Japanese-American combat unit, the 442nd Regiment, in 1943. Volunteers were also accepted from Hawaii where 12,500 men had signed up. The Nisei volunteers were added to the Japanese-Americans still in the military and were also sent to Camp Shelby for combat training.

442ndThese Japanese-Americans formed the 442nd Infantry Regiment. The regiment consisted of three battalions, support companies, the 232nd Combat Engineers, the 522nd Artillery Battalion, and Caucasian officers. The 442nd chose “Go For Broke” as it was a Hawaiian slang term from the gambling game ‘craps’. “Go For Broke” means to risk everything, give everything you have, or “all or nothing”.

The 442nd landed at Naples on June 2, 1944, and pushed to the Anzio beaches. 2 weeks later, the 100th Battalion and the 442nd were merged into a single unit. The 100th battalion became the first battalion of the 442nd because the original battalion of the 442nd had been used for replacements for the 100th. They were attached to the 133rd Regiment in the 34th Division.

Decorations – The “Purple Heart Battalion

The 442nd became known as “the Purple Heart battalion” because of the casualties it suffered. The original 4,000 Nisei who initially came in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 3.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts (many earning double and triples), 4,000 Bronze Stars. 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters added to the Bronze Star, 560 Silver Stars, 28 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Silver Star, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 15 battlefield commissions and 23 of America’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor.

442nd memorialIts rescue of 211 members of a Texas unit pinned down by the Germans in southern France has also become a military legend known as “the rescue of the lost battalion.”

After the post-war occupation duty in Italy, the soldiers of the 442nd – who had once been suspected of disloyalty because of their ancestry – came home as heroes in July of 1946. President Truman, in a ceremony on the Ellipse, personally pinned the 442nd’s seventh Presidential Unit Citation on the unit’s colors.

The 442nd Regiment was deactivated in Honolulu in 1946, but reactivated in 1947 in the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1968, they were sent to refill the Strategic Reserve during the Vietnam War, which carried on the honors and traditions of the unit.

Today, the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, is the only infantry unit of the Army Reserve. The battalion headquarters is at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, with sub-units based in American Samoa, Hilo, Saipan, and Guam.

Steffen, Jordan (October 6, 2010), “White House honors Japanese American WWII veterans“, The Los Angeles Times
Williams, Rudi (19 May 2000). “Asian American World War II Vets to Get Medal of Honor“. United States Department of Defense.
Asahina, Robert. (2007). Just Americans: The Story of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. ISBN 978-1-59240-300-4
Images credit



  1. squid

    May 31, 2013 at 9:01 am

    The 100th battalion 442 Inf is the most decorated unit in the US Army, but the most decorated unit in United States military history is the USS Parche (SSN 683) with 9 Presidential Unit Citations, 10 Navy Unit Citations, 13 Navy Expeditionary Medals, and 15 Battle “E”s. The mission of the boat is classified to this day yet there has been rumors and speculations to what they have done to achieve so many awards in less than 30 years of active service (as the boat and it’s crew did two major refits during it lifetime).

  2. Zip

    June 27, 2014 at 3:45 am

    Sorry guy. You are totally incorrect. It is FACT the 442 was the most decorated unit in US military history. NOT just the Army. I find you even mentioning an almost unknown boat the USS Parche and comparing it with the 442 very disrespectful I respect both units but come on now, there is NO conspiracy regarding the 442 NONE . But I do agree there is controversy regarding the Parche. Most of it does not look good for them sorry to say. But again they all deserve respect. But that is NOT the topic here I’m here to set the record straight and this comes from a current Active duty Marine I have 2 deployments in the sandbox to date. I come from a military family a very proud one. And I will fight any false info that will degrade or put doubt on the 442nd which still is an active unit.

    No unit for its size even came close. I don’t know why you are trying to deny this. Its a known fact with every official military organization both Government, Military and private I mean NO one questions it. I had 3 uncles that served with the 442nd all were wounded and all sadly have passed on. But their legacy remains. And what bothers me is no one outside the military gives them credit. One good film from the 50’s and a few b movies is all the mainstream media gives the US and or the world. To me its disgusting.

    • grunt

      September 14, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      Actually, you are both wrong. The 442nd and U.S.S. Parche have claims to one measure of most decorated unit, but not all. For example at the Regimental level, the 7th Infantry is first on the order of merit list. The 3rd Infantry Division has the most medals of honor, and the 5th SF Group has the most for a brigade sized element. I’d venture without having access to the information for obvious reasons, that there are detachments of SEAL teams that currently have more than half of personnel with valor decorations, and a half dozen personal unit citations (PUC, etc.)

      So, the notion that no one questions these matters, is well, silly.

  3. Haggis

    December 7, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I guess it depends on how the most decorated unit is determined. The USS Parche is the most decorated military unit at the unit level (see wikipedia and Navy records, this is an unalienable fact) while it sounds like this unit had the most personal awards within the unit.

    That many CMOH is impressive, and not a single one was awarded on the Parche, take my word for it. In closing, what the Parche did to become the most decorated unit in military history is none of your business. Just thank God none of the blabbermouths from DEVGRU served on the Parche, otherwise there wouldd be a dozen books about it.

    • Frank Heidt

      December 21, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      And anyone who could hangout on the bottom at 52°57’51.0″N 158°34’13.0″E deserves a CMOH!

  4. Hirata

    December 13, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I am so proud to be in this unit! My grandfather Isami Hirata served in the European campaign. Go For Broke! Hooah!

  5. Stan

    December 17, 2014 at 6:19 am

    The 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Battalion is the most decorated unit in U.S. Military history “for its size and length of service” per US military historians.
    The caveat is put there to avoid comparing apples and oranges. Size about 4000; length of service about 3 years.

  6. Wiz

    December 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    100BN-442IN is the most decorated unit in US military history. Google it. Let me know how many times USS Parche shows up. No doubt both unit served their country well, but the sacrifice the 100th gave in WWII, I’m surprised they didn’t get more awards. Nothing epitomizes valor and courage more than the Nisei warriors that fought for the country who placed their family in internment camps. Go for Broke!

  7. Lynn Marie

    May 27, 2015 at 12:04 am

    Actually, the members of the MIS (Military Intelligence Service) were sent the pacific to translated & intercepted documents & codes of the Japanese. They had to even go to foreign language school before being deployed. If it wasn’t for them, it would’ve lengthened the war.

  8. Tom Cunnally

    April 7, 2016 at 6:56 am

    I knew a member of the 442nd Regiment Ben Okuye whose war record was highlighted on Veterans Day in the Company newsletter. He was a very low key and very quiet man who never talked about his time in WWII or what his family endured in California.

  9. John

    October 17, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    “This is because the US’s most decorated military unit was .. Japanese”

    That’s Japanese-AMERICANS, not Japanese.

  10. David Slobodin

    March 28, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    I have no opinion on which is the most decorated unit, nor does it concern me. The important thing is that these men fought with extreme valor and bravery, while at the same time their parents were subjected to the most brutal and degrading conditions.
    This is a story that should be better known. Perhaps someone will produce a film like “Hidden Figures” to show the stupidity of racism.
    The only reason I know their story is that I am reading the book “The Japanese Lover” written by Isabel Allende”

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