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Honor Before Glory: The Epic World War II Story of the Japanese-American GIs Who Rescued the Lost Battalion, by Scott McGaugh, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2016, $25.99

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a regiment comprising almost entirely Japanese American soldiers, emerged from World War II as the most decorated military unit of its size and length of service in American history. Highly decorated units inevitably receive such distinction because they see a great deal of fighting, and in Honor Before Glory McGaugh—director of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego—delivers an engrossing account of a particularly brutal engagement that helped ensure the 442nd’s fame.

After entering combat in Italy, the unit landed in southern France in the wake of Operation Dragoon, the August 1944 Allied landings. By October the Germans had retreated 500 miles to the Vosges Mountains, a thickly forested area perhaps more difficult to assault than the Ardennes. Dense clouds cut off air support for Allied units attempting to dislodge the well-entrenched enemy, while freezing weather and continual rain reduced supplies and made trench foot ubiquitous.

On October 23 the advancing U.S. 141st Infantry Regiment pushed too far into the mountains, and German forces cut off and surrounded 275 men of its 1st Battalion. The Germans repulsed repeated rescue efforts by the remainder of the 141st, and by October 26 its exhausted troops were unable to advance.

Nearly as exhausted after nine days of continual fighting, the men of the 442nd were in reserve when ordered forward. McGaugh delivers a blow-by-blow account of the ensuing five-day battle, during which the Nisei troops attacked uphill against stubborn defenses and suffered terrible casualties before prevailing on October 30. Though lauded in period newsreels, the Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd received lesser medals than deserved due to discriminatory wartime attitudes.

In the 1990s an Army review panel decided the 442nd in fact had been denied a fair share of recognition for its wartime efforts—including the rescue of the “lost battalion”—and it ultimately upgraded 20 previously awarded decorations to the Medal of Honor. Honor Before Glory expounds on some of the actions summarized in their citations.

Mike Oppenheim