JOURNEY OF HEROES: The Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team
By Stacey T. Hayashi, Illustrated by Damon Wong (Self published, 2012, 45 pp., $10, paperback)
It is difficult to understand the horrors of war, much less the experience of Japanese American veterans who fought for a nation that imprisoned their families. It is even more difficult to convey their accomplishments in an age appropriate way to young children without diminishing the story. Stacey Hayashi and Damon Wong have managed to elegantly tell the story of Nikkei veterans in a self-published comic book that strikes at the heart of the accomplishments and sacrifices the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team made during World War II.
Much is known already about the 100th and 442nd. While most Japanese Americans on the West Coast of the United States were imprisoned in concentration camps, many young Japanese Americans volunteered to prove their loyalty to the American government and worked on some of the most dangerous missions in the European Theater. Their accomplishment eventually earned them eight presidential unit citations, 18,143 individual decorations including 21 Congressional Medals of Honor and 9,486 purple hearts according to the book. Following the war, some of the soldiers went on to lead successful lives, including national leaders such as the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and Rep. Spark Matsunaga of Hawai‘i.
Hayashi and Wong distill the essence of the veteran’s wartime experience by telling the story from the perspective of one of the veterans retracing his steps following the 100th/442nd’s rescues of “The Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains, France. The story follows a nameless veteran from Hawai‘i and his experiences joining the 442nd. Wong drew the comic in “chibi” style, the characters small and cute. Many of the panels within the comic are taken from famous photographs taken from the era to constantly tie each comical scene to real life counterparts.
The comic is accessible for younger readers but does not talk down to them, thus it could be read and appreciated by a wide range of ages. Cute as the artwork may be, Hayashi and Wong do not shy away from the devastating scenes of the battlefield and harsh racism faced by Japanese Americans. The artwork serves to soften the impact of gruesome death on the battlefield, but also amplifies emotions conveyed by the soldiers depicted in the comic.
“Journey of Heroes” is a good primer for the contributions the Nikkei within the 100th/442nd made to the United States. Without getting bogged down by details, it provides a visual story of their sacrifice, experience and contributions.