American Portraits

They Were Superb: The 442nd Japanese-American Unit in World War II and Self-Sacrifice

In this lesson, students will learn about the self-sacrifice of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought in World War II. They will also determine ways in which they can sacrifice to help others.

Founding Principles

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.


When the U.S. Army went to Japanese internment camps, they knew they were asking much of people who had little reason to sacrifice for the United States. The recruiters said,

“You may object that this—your life here—is not freedom. The circumstances were not of your own choosing, though it is true that the majority of you and your families accepted the restrictions placed upon your life with little complaint and without deviating from loyalty to the United States.”

The Japanese-American soldiers who did sign up paved the way for a larger regiment when they formed the 100th Infantry Battalion. By February 1943, their dedication and skill convinced the Army to begin training the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, while the 100th Battalion was sent to Italy to join the 34th “Red Bull” Division’s drive on Rome. It did not take long for them to prove their worth….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can your sacrifices help others?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the self-sacrifice of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought in World War II. They will also determine ways in which they can sacrifice to help others.


  • Students will examine the actions of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and their self-sacrifice.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of self-sacrifice to their own lives.
  • Students will determine ways in which they can sacrifice in order to help others.


Just weeks after the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the War Department to place Japanese-Americans in prison camps for the duration of the war. Despite the assumption that native-born Japanese-Americans, (known as Nisei) would choose to betray the United States, thousands of young men volunteered to serve the country that had condemned them.

In early 1943, the Director of the War Relocation Authority instituted a loyalty oath for all of the interned Japanese-Americans. After foreswearing any allegiance to the emperor of Japan and expressing a willingness to serve in the American armed forces, 3,000 soldiers were recruited into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated all Japanese-American unit. These young men formed what was known as a Regimental Combat Team. It consisted of three battalions of infantry (the 100th, 2nd, and 3rd battalions), the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 232nd Combat Engineer Company. After volunteering while in the internment camps and passing some of the toughest training the Army had to offer, this combat team would fight the best units in the Wehrmacht (the German Army).

Japanese-American Tech Sergeant Abraham Ohama explained why many Nisei fought for a country that treated them poorly, stating, “All of us can’t stay in the [internment] camps until the end of the war. Some of us have to go to the front. Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated.”


  • Nisei
  • Condemned
  • Loyalty
  • Foreswearing
  • Allegiance
  • Segregated
  • Internment
  • Wehrmacht
  • Recruiters
  • Dedication
  • Platoons
  • Sniper
  • Battalion
  • Bayonets
  • Terrain
  • Routed

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

Visit Their Website


Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who were the 442nd Regimental Combat Team? Why was their role in World War II significant?
  • What was the purpose of the 442nd?
  • What did the members of the 442nd stand to lose while serving their country? Why did they take part in the war?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources



Give Feedback

Send us your comments or questions using the form below.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.