Bainbridge Island and its people played a significant role during World War II. Four hundred ninety-two islanders served, of whom 17 gave their lives, two others were Medal of Honor recipients, and four others were members of the famous all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Fort Ward and Battle Point together provided very important radio communications services for American ships and as a listening post for Japanese diplomatic and military radio communications. Seventeen steel-hulled minesweepers were built at the Winslow Shipyard.
Fort Ward was transferred by the U.S. Army to the Navy in 1938 for use as a Naval Radio Station and by 1940 was one of five Navy sites used as listening posts linked to Washington, D.C. In addition, together with the transmitting antenna tower at Battle Point, it supported communications with ships and naval installations in the North Pacific. As the war escalated, the fleet radio operator’s school was phased out and replaced by the Japanese-telegraph-code training school. After first taking an oath of secrecy, sailors were now trained to copy the Japanese telegraph code which differed markedly from the standard Morse code. America had broken the Japanese encryption code so the Japanese messages were transcribed into English characters and forwarded to Washington to be decrypted.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was a unit comprising only American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were recruited from the internment camps or had relatives there. The 442nd Regiment was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. Four Bainbridge Islanders served in the 442nd.
“World War II From An Island Perspective” is now showing in the Helen Bucey Gallery.