There’s a long list of honorary Texans. John Wayne is one. No surprise there. Chuck Norris, born in Oklahoma, was made an honorary Texan in 2017, and Gov. Allan Shivers extended the honor to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
But one case that stands out is when Gov. John Connally awarded honorary Texan status to hundreds of men simultaneously in 1962. He made the entire 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion of the U.S. Army honorary Texans after World War II.
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The story begins with the Alamo Regiment, a Texas National Guard unit that in October 1944 found itself cut off and surrounded behind enemy lines in the mountains of southern France.
The Texans were on top of a mountain and had the advantage of high ground, but they were still pounded by German artillery. It was foggy, rainy and very cold. They quickly dug fighting positions in the wet, muddy soil and covered themselves with tree limbs, rocks and dirt. The Lost Battalion, as it was known, was also running out of food and water.
The U.S. Army redirected its push toward the Rhine River to focus on saving the battalion from the Germans. American forces tried pounding the German lines with their artillery, but the forest was so thick they weren’t having much effect. Two infantry battalions tried to break through the German lines, but each was repelled by hailstorms of bullets.
This is when the 442nd, which had joined with the 100th, was called in. Battle- hardened, they had a reputation for succeeding in just these situations. It took them five days of brutal, close-quarters combat on muddy terrain in bone-chilling weather to reach the Texans. The 442nd suffered hundreds of casualties to save 211 soldiers of the Lost Battalion’s original 275.
After almost a week, they were freed from the German onslaught.
What makes this story especially significant: The 442nd was a Nisei regiment, composed of second-generation Japanese Americans. Most of them, along with their families, had been detained in camps operated by the War Relocation Authority at the beginning of the war. These men, however, asked if they could fight rather than sit out the war.
And they were extraordinary fighters. The 442nd was called the Purple Heart Battalion because they received more Purple Hearts than any other unit their size in World War II.
When the 442nd returned from Europe, President Harry Truman said, “You have fought not only the enemy, but you have fought prejudice—and you have won.”
For Connally, making them all honorary Texans was his way of demonstrating to these soldiers, and their descendants, the solemn gratitude of Texas.