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Posted on Mar 1, 2005 in War College

The Role of Women and Minorities during the Second World War

By Rolando C. Delos Reyes III

African-Americans – "Double V"

Of all the minority groups, the African-Americans contributed the most manpower. More than 900,000 enlisted in the armed forces (equivalent to 11% of the total U.S. military population in 1945)
The 1940 Selective Service Act allowed African-Americans to be enlisted in the Army, where they joined different military branches- Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. FDR also gave them the permission to join the Air Corps, and to attend officer training schools.

Despite these anti-racist policies, discrimination still occurred in the Army. African-Americans had to contend with two battles: their personal psychological conflict due to racism, and their military confrontations. Because of this, Black activists demanded a “Double V” sign to represent two victories. Nevertheless, World War II demonstrated the value and heroism of each Negro soldier.4


Dorie Miller was a 3rd class cook in the Navy, and he was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the American naval base was bombed on December 7, 1941. He did not falter amidst the presence of hundreds of enemy planes hitting them from all directions. Until that day, Miller had never fired an anti-aircraft weapon, but he did not hesitate to use it against the adversary when opportunity presented itself.

For his heroic acts, Dorie Miller became the first African- American to be awarded the Navy Cross. In the movie “Pearl Harbor” released in 2001, Dorie Miller was played by actor Cuba Gooding Jr. Miller characterizes the African-American soldier of World War II, inhibited but determined to fight for his country.

American-Indians – The Navajo Code Talkers

“Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima”, commended Major Howard Connor of the 5th Marines Division. The Navajo code talkers accompanied the island hopping military campaign of the Marines in the Pacific.

This idea of using an “unbreakable” code to assure secure transmission during combat operations was proposed by World War I veteran Philip Johnston. He suggested the use of the Navajo language, which is an “unwritten language of extreme complexity.” Then Amphibious Corps commanding general Major General Clayton B. Vogel, after seeing the skill and accuracy of Navajo code talkers as regards radio transmission, approved the assimilation of Navajo radiomen into the Marine Corps.

The Navajo code was never deciphered by Japanese Intelligence. These code talkers were able to coordinate American naval gunfire and air support to Japanese positions, and the enemy never saw them coming. A total of 540 Navajos served with the Marines during World War II. The movie “Windtalkers” starring Nicolas Cage, retells the gripping tale of the Navajo soldiers.5


Hispanics have always participated in every war America has fought, and World War II saw thousands of Hispanics taking arms in this conflict. Records show around 53,000 Puerto Ricans serving in the Army. The New Mexico National Guard based in the Philippines was the largest American unit in that archipelago. Hispanics in this unit suffered with their comrades in the infamous “Bataan Death March”. The 141st Infantry Regiment from Texas is famed not only for the large number of Hispanics in their unit, but also for 361 straight days of hard fighting during the war. The Regiment had thousands of individual citations.6

Japanese Americans – The 442nd regiment

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, resentment grew towards Americans with Japanese ancestry. They were accused of being spies, and were considered a major threat to the nation’s security. 120,000 Japanese Americans (or Niseis) were placed in interment camps, and they were forced to sell their livelihood at very low prices.

Fortunately, in early 1943, the government gave the Japanese Americans the chance to enlist in the Army. Thus, the 442nd regiment was born, composed of Nisei volunteers from Hawaii and the mainland. More than 33,000 Niseis joined the Army and fought many European campaigns.7

“For their performance, the 442nd has been recognized as the most decorated unit in United States history” After 8 major campaigns in Europe, the 442nd received a total of 18,000 awards- among these are 7 presidential unit citations, 9,500 Purple Hearts, and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses. In the process, they earned the respect of their fellow soldiers.8

United We Stand

The Second World War is known as the greatest human conflict the world has ever known. Many nations paid tremendous sacrifices. In this tragic event, diverse communities were able to unite in order to achieve a common goal.

During that time when the American nation desperately needed human resources, minority groups stepped up to meet the country’s needs. President Roosevelt believed in the capabilities of the American citizens, regardless of racial ancestry. Evidently, the unity of diverse people made America stronger.


1. Ambrose, Stephen. Americans at War. New York. The Berkley Publishing Group: 1998
2. Minority Groups in World War II.
3. The Women’s Army Corps.
4. The Negro Soldier.
5. Cryptology: Navajo Code talkers in World War II.
6. Latino Patriotism.
7. Merrill’s Marauders – The Nisei Story-
8. The 442nd regimental combat team.

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  1. You should make it simpler

  2. Hey, Hudson!

  3. Why?

  4. If you were one soldier in the war, then who would it be?

  5. This better have how did minorities fight racism during World War II because I have to do a project on this topic and I need to make 70 notes cards abou this topic so if this does not have any facts about my topic I will be really really mad

  6. o wow