Facing The Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II is an engrossing non-fiction account of the military bravery of Japanese Americans, along with the shameful racism that these soldiers and their families suffered. Their patriotism and resilience are inspiring.
The first-generation Japanese men who immigrated to Hawaii and the mainland United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s were known as Issei. They were barred from becoming American citizens. Their American-born children were called Nisei. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an exclusion zone was set up on the entire western coast of the United States. Families of Japanese descent that lived in these areas and many Issei from Hawaii were forced to live in relocation camps. While these families were imprisoned, their sons were conscripted for military service. Many of the Nisei volunteered, but a few objected. These soldiers were placed in a segregated unit, the 442nd RCT, and sent to fight in the mountains of Italy and France. Facing The Mountain follows the stories of several Nisei soldiers as well as one conscientious objector.
There is a lot of detail given to the military excursions these brave men fought. The 442nd RCT was the most decorated military unit of its size and length of service in American history. In all, there were approximately 18,000 men who served. Many of them gave their lives at the same time their families were being imprisoned for no other reason than being of Japanese descent. Several of them helped liberate the Jewish people being held at Dachau, but could not free their own families in the United States.
Once the war was over, the families and soldiers faced horrible discrimination upon their return to their homes. Much of the property had been stolen or looted, their businesses sold, and their homes occupied by squatters who refused to leave. A group of people who burned down a Japanese- American owned farm were found not guilty after the defense attorney implored the jury to keep this part of California “a white man’s country”.
In the epilogue on page 465, the author poignantly states:
In the end they helped win for us a far better world than the one in which they found themselves when Japanese bombers first appeared over Pearl Harbor on the morning of December, 7, 1941. Now, more than a generation later, it is up to us to cherish and protect what they won, to devote ourselves yet again to the principles they defended, to surmount our own mountains of trouble, to keep moving upward together on the long slope of our shared destiny.
5-Stars. This is my book club’s September 2021 selection. I felt like I was facing a mountain when I saw how thick this book is. It is 482 pages long, plus 58 pages of notes. The author does an excellent job of keeping the story moving and interesting.