After Pearl Harbor, Japanese people in Converse County were restricted to a 25-mile radius. All knives over 10 inches were confiscated, along with any binoculars, short-wave radios, firearms and anything else that could, in any way, be perceived as a threat to the United States.

But Joe Shinmori figures his family was one of the lucky ones.

Japanese families on the West Coast, including his brother-in-law's family, were told to pack one suitcase and leave everything else behind. People were given just one day's notice before they were moved to relocation camps, including Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

But from this atmosphere of prejudice and mistrust was born the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated military regiment in U.S. history.

It was made almost entirely of Nisei, American-born sons of Japanese immigrants.

"What I think, in my mind, it was to prove to ourselves and the American public that we were just as good as anybody else," said Shinmori, 85.

"Our slogan on 442 was 'Go For Broke,' which we did to our best and to the most extreme knowledge that we had. We just kept going."

Shinmori's father, Toshiki Shinmori, immigrated from Japan to Denver in 1918. He met his wife in the States and the two moved to the Torrington area to farm as tenants on the Morton Ranch.

The Shinmoris had six children, all of whom went to school in Douglas.

Joe Shinmori, born in North Platte, was a senior in high school when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Despite the restrictions placed on his family, Shinmori says he understands the fear.

"In Douglas, we had very (little) discrimination," he said. People weren't hostile, most treated his family fairly well. But more than 110,000 West Coast Japanese Americans were relocated and, at first, weren't allowed to join the Armed Forces. Then, in February 1943, President Roosevelt announced the formation of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat team, declaring: “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” Most soldiers were Nisei, save a few of the officers.

They fought at the tale-end of the Battle of the Bulge, in the Battle of Cassino, at Anzio and other major battles in France and Italy. A group helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. The unit even captured a German submarine, something no other Army unit had ever done.

Shinmori was drafted in May 1944, just after graduation. He joined the 442nd in France in February 1945, part of a wave of much-needed replacements after months of hard fighting. The 4,000 Nisei who originally joined the Army would be replaced 3 1/2 times over the course of the war.

"There weren't too many people left," Shinmori said of the soldiers he relieved. "They were all tired out, raggedy."

For a time in France, the Nisei were pulled back off the front, doing mostly reconnaissance missions on the outer lines. On March 23, 1945, Shinmori shipped out of Marseille en route to Northern Italy.

There waited the Gothic Line, a months-long stalemate between Allied and Enemy forces along the Apennine Mountains. The Po River Valley stretched to the west, to the foot of the Austrian Alps and the last barrier into Germany.

On April 5 and 6, the 442nd attacked.

Shinmori remembers they were ordered to advance at midnight, climbing a mountain no one could see in the dark. They were supposed to reach the top by 8 a.m., but didn't make it until after 10 a.m.

"If we would have seen that mountain we were to climb, I don't think anybody would have gone. Laramie Peak is nothing compared to it. It was steep," he said.

The Nisei and the Allies broke through and proceeded to the Po Valley Push. But the war for Shinmori ended there.

A burst of gunfire blasted through a soldier's gut. Shinmori went back for him, helping him back down the mountain when another burst of machine gun fire rang. It got Shinmori in the right leg.

"That's what they called a million-dollar wound," he said. It got him off the mountain.

The injury earned him his Purple Heart. The act of going back for his fallen brother earned him his Bronze Star, though he says now he was just doing what a U.S. soldier is supposed to do.

"I wouldn't call that bravery," he said. "I'd call that my duty."

He spent three weeks in the hospital. Soon after, the war ended in Europe.

For its size and length of service, the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team became the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. military. It earned eight Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, 560 Silver Stars (with 28 Oak Leaf Clusters), 22 Legion of Merit Medals, 15 Soldier's Medals, 4,000 Bronze Stars (with 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters) and 9,486 Purple Hearts.

On July 4, 1945, a hot and muggy afternoon in Washington, D.C., the 442nd marched in a parade before a large crowd. The 442nd was unique in that it was a self-sufficient fighting formation -- it had its own heavy artillery, service company, medical unit, headquarters company and even its own band.

All marched past President Truman, who said, "“You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice -- and you have won.”

Shinmori puts it this way: "I think we did a pretty good job and satisfied the people."

Pfc. Joe Shinmori, Douglas

Age: 85

Unit: 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, Company L

War fronts: European Front, fighting in France and Italy. His company won two Presidential Unit Citations.

Family: Married 59 years, father of three children, two of which died as young adults.

His words: Shinmori was one of 110 Wyoming World War II veterans who went last month to Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight-Wyoming. Seeing the World War II Memorial brought back memories he hadn't thought about in a while, many he didn't want to think about ever again.

"Trying to get it out my mind, not very good thoughts really," he said. "War is evil."

On the Web: Watch more of Shinmori's story and see profiles of other veterans at


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