The Japanese Invasion of America

Today’s post comes from National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications staff writer Rob Crotty.

While June 6, 1944, is best known as the day when Allied forces invaded Nazi-occupied Europe, there was another invasion that took place on almost the same day, just two years prior: the Japanese invasion of the United States.

On June 7, 1942, Japanese forces moved onto the Alaskan territorial island of Attu—an Aleutian Island closer to Japan than to mainland Alaska, setting the stage for the only land battle in World War II that would take place on U.S. soil.

When the Japanese invaded, there were only two non-native Americans on the island, Charles and Etta Jones, and about 45 Aleuts.

According to one account of the invasion, when the Japanese arrived, they came into the Joneses’ home and poked 62-year-old Etta with a bayonet, asking in English, “How many are here?”

“Two,” Etta replied. “How many have you?”

“Two thousand” was the answer.

By 1943, the island population had swelled to over 2,300, all of whom were Japanese soldiers settling in to defend the island, and on May 11, 1943, the Battle of Attu began.

The barren island was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific campaign.  American forces landed uncontested while the Japanese dug in at higher ground, and when the attack came, it was brutal: there were 549 U.S. deaths, and 2,351 Japanese deaths. Perhaps more telling of the fighting conditions on the island are the US casualty statistics: 3,829, 25% of the entire invading force, a proportion of casualties second only to the fighting on Iwo Jima.  On May 29, the battle ended with one of the largest banzai charges in the Pacific campaign by the remaining Japanese forces, many detonating grenades against their chests instead of facing surrender. Only 28 Japanese survived.

Etta’s husband was killed early in the invasion, and Etta herself was taken prisoner and transferred to Tokyo. On September 1, 1945, she was liberated and sent home. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, for whom she worked, gave her a check for $7,371.00 in back pay.

A photo of Attu Island (Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library)
A photo of Attu Island (Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library)

4 thoughts on “The Japanese Invasion of America

  1. For a very good read on the Aleutian Campaign I suggest the following book

    The Thousand Mile War by Brain Garfield. It pretty much chronicles the entire Northeast Pacific War of Alaska and the Aleutian Island chain., from start to finish.

  2. The statement “the only land battle in World War II that would take place on U.S. soil” is wildly inaccurate. Land battles also took place on U.S. soil in The Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island. Following is an overview of attacks on U.S. soil.

    The U.S. territory of Hawaii was attacked by Japan on 12/7/41. 2,403 Americans were killed.

    The U.S. territory of the Philippines was attacked by Japan 10 hours later, on 12/8/41, and occupied. Over 537,000 Americans died during the invasion, occupation, and liberation, including about 100,000 who were massacred during the liberation of Manila. At the time Manila was known as the Pearl of the Orient and was the 6th largest city in the U.S. Much of the beautiful downtown was destroyed.

    The U.S. territory of Guam was also attacked by Japan on 12/8/41 and occupied. 2,418 Americans died during the invasion, occupation, and liberation.

    Wake Island was the third U.S. territory attacked by Japan on 12/8/41 and it was occupied. 304 Americans died during the invasion and occupation.

    Yes, the U.S. territory of Alaska was attacked by Japan on 6/3/42 and two islands were occupied. But my sources show 1,483 Americans died liberating the islands.

    The U.S. territory of Midway Island was attacked by Japan the next day on 6/4/42. 307 Americans were killed in the Battle of Midway.

    There were also a variety of attacks from sea and air and sabotage on the contiguous U.S. (48 states and DC), plus hundreds of attacks on U.S. vessels in the territorial waters of the contiguous U.S.

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