Imagine that you and your family have been taken into custody. You’ve lost your home and small business. Fellow Americans have berated and beaten you. Now you’re all living behind a fence in a single room in a squalid barrack in some desolate nowhere. And the government comes to you and says, “We want you to join the Army and risk your life to fight for the United States.”
It's astounding that anyone said yes, much less thousands of people. The Japanese Americans who formed the 442nd Infantry Regiment—the most decorated unit in U.S. history for its size and service length—were American patriots, and many felt they needed to demonstrate their loyalty to their country. They certainly succeeded.
In Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II, Daniel James Brown tackles this important story with the same impressive narrative talent and research that made his 2013 book, The Boys in the Boat, an enduring bestseller. He shares the story of issei (first-generation Japanese Americans) and nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) who fought in World War II by focusing on four young men: three from Hawaii and the West Coast who joined the 442nd, and one, no less courageous, who went to prison for peacefully resisting what he believed were violations of the Constitution.
Brown takes us through the shock of the internment camps and the struggle for Hawaiians and mainlanders to overcome tensions and establish a cohesive fighting unit. The centerpieces of Facing the Mountain are the wrenching, on-the-ground descriptions of battles fought by the 442nd in Europe, most notably the uphill rescue of the “Lost Battalion” of Texans in France, in which the nisei suffered more than 800 casualties to rescue some 200 men.
Many readers will feel ashamed of the bigotry these men and their families faced—but every reader will admire the resilience that allowed these soldiers to create communities within the internment camps and to play such a pivotal role in the defeat of the Nazis. Most are gone now, but their stories will live on in this empathetic tribute to their courage.