Honor Before Glory by Scott McGaugh

Our country has a history of defending the defenseless, but it also has a history of treating minority races poorly. Not only has the country authorized the enslavement of one race, but it also has put another in internment camps (many equate them to concentration camps).

Scott McGaugh focuses on the Japanese Americans who fought heroically for their country in World War II even though their families were imprisoned back in the U.S.. In Honor Before Glory: The Epic World War II Story of the Japanese American GIs Who Rescued the Lost Battalion McGaugh specifically focuses on the 442nd Infantry Regiment (the sole Japanese American combat unit in World War II) and their actions to rescue a surrounded battalion in October 1944 in eastern France.

Here is a synopsis of the book from the publisher:

On October 24, 1944, more than two hundred American soldiers realized they were surrounded by German infantry deep in the mountain forest of eastern France. As their dwindling food, ammunition, and medical supplies ran out, the American commanding officer turned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team to achieve what other units had failed to do.

Honor Before Glory is the story of the 442nd, a segregated unit of Japanese American citizens, commanded by white officers, that finally rescued the “lost battalion.” Their unmatched courage and sacrifice under fire became legend—all the more remarkable because many of the soldiers had volunteered from prison-like “internment” camps where sentries watched their mothers and fathers from the barbed-wire perimeter.

In seven campaigns, these young Japanese American men earned more than 9,000 Purple Hearts, 6,000 Bronze and Silver Stars, and nearly two dozen Medals of Honor. The 442nd became the most decorated unit of its size in World War II: its soldiers earned 18,100 awards and decorations, more than one for every man.

McGaugh’s book is a fine tribute to the hard-fighting men who were a part of the 442nd.  These men were like other Americans who fought during the war – they complained about the physical hardships, poor food, and being away from families, but they continued slogging along. However, they were unlike most of the other fighting Americans – they were given some of the toughest tasks and succeeded at great loss of life. The unit was given an impressive seven Presidential Unit Citations for their valor in combat.

McGaugh follows the actions of the three infantry battalions of the 442nd from their capture of the towns Belmont and Bruyeres to the taking of Hill 595 (the original objective of the 1/141st Infantry – the “lost” battalion). He provides great descriptions of the conditions the men had to fight in – incessant rain that created vast holes of mud; hills so steep that a person needed to climb them by grabbing tree roots; and the fear of tree bursts – artillery shells burst in the trees that create deadly shrapnel from tree splinters.

Not only do the men have to fight the elements and artillery, but the dreaded German machine gun (MG-42) that held up units for hours if not days. The 442nd sacrificed themselves against countless German trenches and roadblocks to free the 1/141st. They did this all the while other units of the 141st Infantry were relatively idle. McGaugh never explains why the other units from the 141st were not called upon other than failing to break through to the 1/141st and slight hints at the racist nature of the 36th Division (to which the 442nd and 141st were a part of) commander.

Racism is discussed throughout the book – not just from the Division commander, but also from the Army itself. When the 1/141st was relieved and Army photographers were taking pictures for public release, the photographers did not include pictures of the 442nd, but of white men from other units that did not help relieve the 141st – Army command felt that the American public would not think too kindly of Japanese Americans rescuing white Americans.

Other than some slight editorial mistakes, the book is an easy read. The maps in the front help you to follow along with the course of the attack. The book includes sixteen pages of black and white photographs depicting many of the men discussed in the battle and scenes from the battle.

The book is an excellent tribute to the Japanese American soldiers who fought and died for their fellow Americans on a forgotten ridge in eastern France.

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