Over 300,000 foreign-born individuals served in the US Army during World War II. In 1940, nearly one in every 11 individuals residing in the United States, approximately 11,600,000 people, were born outside the country. Military service had long been tied to citizenship possibilities, but the increased need for uniformed personnel during World War II spurred legislation that enabled expedited naturalization for those seeking citizenship. The Second War Powers Act of 1942 lifted some of the naturalization requirements for non-citizen servicemembers related to age, race, residence, and education. Later, even proof of lawful entry was unnecessary.
Male non-citizens had to register for the draft like their citizen counterparts. If they entered into service, either by the draft or enlistment, they did not automatically receive citizenship nor were they required to naturalize. But military service during World War II was a fast track to citizenship. In order to become a citizen, one needed to file a petition for naturalization and swear an oath of allegiance. This process was overseen by the Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS], who worked with the military to naturalize members of the US Armed Forces.
In a ceremony on March 23, 1944 at Camp San Luis Obispo, California, 66 members of the US Army from 16 different countries received their citizenship.
US Army Signal Corps photographs, Gift in Memory of Maurice T. White, 2011.065
Swearing in ceremonies took place at military bases across the nation and also, for the first time in US history, overseas. Many of the ceremonies naturalized dozens of servicemembers at once. Lt. Steve Pisanos, the first person to receive American citizenship in the European theater, remembered his May 3, 1943, naturalization in an interview with the Museum. Designated government officials from the INS performed a total of 13,587 overseas naturalizations in the war years. An INS report from 1948 analyzed the rapid pace of naturalization during the war. Between July 1, 1942 and June 30, 1945, 109,382 foreign-born members of the US Armed Forces became naturalized citizens. A total of more than one million foreign-born individuals obtained citizenship during the war.
Some foreign-born servicemembers had increased personal motivation to join in the fight with the US military, having fled persecution in their native lands. They were driven by revenge to return to the countries of their births in American uniforms to fight for democracy and against Fascism. Fifteen percent of naturalized citizens from Germany and Austria served in the Armed Forces (16,691). Foreign-born US troops made a significant contribution to American Victory in World War II.
The Museum’s collection contains many stories from those who became American citizens during the war. Since 2014, The National WWII Museum has hosted a July 4th naturalization ceremony during which new citizens pledge an oath of allegiance to the nation and swear to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Kimberly Guise holds a BA in German and Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also studied at the Universität Freiburg in Germany and holds a masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University. Kim is fluent in German, reads Yiddish, and specializes in the American prisoner-of-war experience in World War II.