By John Sammon
There have been non-fiction history books about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, but Andrew Lam is one of the few writers to portray the heroism of the World War II unit composed of Japanese American volunteers in a historical novel. The book “Repentance” is so true to life in its depiction of combat that an actual veteran of the 442nd Susumu Ito; praised the book for its accuracy. Ito’s courage in combat won him the Bronze Star medal.
“That a veteran (Ito) would tell me the book was just the way it happened in combat, that was very gratifying, that meant everything to me,” Lam said.
The plot concerns two Japanese American men who volunteer to fight for their country in the 442nd, one formerly imprisoned at an internment camp, the other from Hawaii who had not been imprisoned. The book’s description says it tells a captivating story about one family’s darkest secrets and the lengths to which a man will go to set things right.
“Repentance” was released this month by Tiny Fox Press in Florida and is based on the history of the 442nd, a volunteer unit composed of young Japanese American men. Some of the volunteers had been imprisoned along with their families at the outbreak of World War II and decided to prove their loyalty by fighting for the United States in Europe.
In 1942 the U.S. Government imprisoned 120,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast suspecting them of treachery including the elderly, women and children. The prisoners were locked in a dozen barbed-wire-enclosed guarded camps most located in remote areas of the desert southwest.
Careers and lives were ruined. Some of the inmates committed suicide.
“Their families were still in internment camps but these young men wanted to prove they were loyal Americans,” Lam said. “They ended up winning 21 Congressional Medals of Honor.”
The 442nd became one of the most decorated military units in U.S. History.
Lam said the fact that most Americans have never even heard of the 442nd led him to write the book.
“What the 442nd did is remarkable,” he said. “This history has not been well known and I am passionate about shining a light on aspects of American history that deserve to be better known. That was my goal.”
Lam said using fiction to tell the story of the 442nd would attract fiction readers who could learn the history through an engaging and action-oriented story in a way nonfiction history books cannot convey.
“I decided to tell the story using fiction because I thought more people were likely to read it,” he said.
In addition to writing Lam has pursued a career as an eye doctor.
He is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and has authored numerous scientific papers on eye conditions and treatments.
It took Lam six years to write “Repentance” after exhaustively studying histories on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Lam said he had been an avid history buff since childhood growing up in Illinois. He got a history degree at Yale University in 1998.
“That was before I went to medical school,” Lam said.
Born in Philadelphia, Lam was raised in Springfield, Illinois.
“Where I grew up I was one of the few Asians in my high school, Springfield High,” he recalled. “This resonated well for my writing this book because I know what it’s like to be in a minority.”
The bigotry against Japanese Americans during World War II was endemic.
“You can imagine the bigotry of that time,” Lam said. “Even so the volunteers of the 442nd did everything they could to prove their loyalty.”
The book’s release (May 1) came on the 75th anniversary of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s heading to war in Europe by boat, Lam noted.
“They first went to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, then to Hampton Roads, Virginia, before shipping overseas,” he said.
Lam said part of the battle sequences in the book are described after long hours studying the rugged terrain of the Vosges Mountains in France. This was the site of what would become one of the 442nd’s most memorable battles when the unit’s members rescued soldiers of the 141st Infantry Regiment who had been surrounded and were facing annihilation by a German force. The 442nd volunteers fought their way through and rescued the mostly Anglo members of the 141st suffering heavy casualties in the process.
Lam has authored two other books, “Two Sons of China” the story of America’s involvement in China during World War II published in 2014 by Bonfire Books, and “Saving Sight,” a nonfiction book released in 2013 about Lam’s career as a retina surgeon and the development of the tools used in ophthalmology (study of eye diseases), published by Irie Books.
Two Sons of China won an Independent Publisher Book Award in the category of wartime fiction and a Book of the Year award for military fiction from Foreword Reviews. Saving Sight won honorable mention at the London and New England book festivals.
All three books including Repentance are available at Amazon.com and major retailers like Barnes & Noble.
Lam credited the help of his wife Christina for his success as an author; she reads the drafts of his manuscripts and offers suggestions.
“My wife and kids have been supportive,” Lam said. “I couldn’t do it without their encouragement.”
The couple has four children.
Lam said he did not write the book continuously, but sporadically on and off over several years evaluating the quality of the writing and receiving feedback from his literary agent and others as he went along.
“I would work on it in fits and starts,” he said.
For more information on the book “Repentance” go to www.AndrewlamMD.com, or Amazon.com.