‘Go For Broke’: Saving the ‘Lost Battalion’

By WND Staff

What a privilege and blessing it was to be a child and grow up in Hawaii in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Advertised and promoted as the “Paradise of the Pacific,” the fond memories of those times for me remain undiminished and confirm the billing.

For almost a century, Hawaii had been America’s most successful melting pot. My own family’s experience was testament to that. My mother’s maternal grandparents came from the Azores to Maui in the 1890s to work the cane fields. My mother’s father, born in Izmir, Turkey – of Spanish and Sephardic Jewish descent – came to the islands as a teenager just in time to be drafted for World War I service with the U.S. Army.

As it is today, so it was back then. Hawaii has, since the mid-1800s, had a large Asian population. The Chinese came first, followed by the Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos. More recently, there are large minorities of newcomers from Southeast Asia.

So pervasive, so complete was this integration from my childhood perspective that, on more than one occasion, I recall my own dear mother stating that “every fourth child born was Chinese.” As a 5-year-old in Hawaii – ignorant of fractions, demographics or the birds and bees – it was my natural expectation that, since I was the third child in my family, if my mother were to get pregnant again my new brother or sister would, in fact, be Chinese.

Long before it became un-kosher for little boys to play army with real toy guns, my childhood friends and I would while away the hours playing war throughout our neighborhoods. The popular kids, those with the neatest toy guns, got to be the Americans. The second string got to be the Germans or the Japanese. Oddly, it was most of my Japanese buddies who always showed up with the coolest stuff. Out of their fathers’ closets or from old, musty footlockers came the real trappings of little-boy wealth. Army mess kits and canteen cups stamped “U.S.,” entrenching tools, cartridge belts, first-aid kits and even old, ill-fitting helmets. Real treasure.

By age 6 or 7, it was becoming apparent that my Japanese pals definitely had the edge in war loot. Then I began to hear and slowly learn about a special army unit that so many of their dads had served with. Some outfit called the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Widely known in Hawaii, everyone simply referred to it as the “Four Four Two.” I recall being a bit envious and disappointed that my own dad had not been a member.

Internment

Many reasonably informed and educated folks know the general circumstances surrounding the internment of Japanese-Americans living in the continental United States during World War II. (Japanese-Americans in Hawaii constituted roughly 160,000 of the islands’ 400,000 residents. Fortunately for all, their internment was a logistical impossibility and thus they were spared.) While difficult to imagine with a 21st-century perspective, the deep-seated racial prejudices of the times, coupled with the real fear of invasion by Adm. Yamamoto’s naval forces was sufficient threat to motivate President Roosevelt, a Democrat, to order the internment of American Japanese living on the West Coast.

Quite possibly the most egregious abuse of justice committed by the U.S. government in the last century, the internment issue will forever be a dark stain on our nation’s history. Numerous books have been written by the men, women and children forced to experience the shame and deprivation of life inside the camps as citizens without the benefits of citizenship.

As modern Americans are the undisputed world leaders in celebrating victimhood, they have been even more aggressively pusillanimous, until 9-11, in recognizing valor, bravery and sacrifice. While many are aware of the broader issues of the American-Japanese internment experience, and that odd, erudite man or woman might also be able to name a camp or two, an extremely low percentage, even among contemporary Japanese-Americans, are aware of the exploits of the most decorated unit in the history of the United States Army.

Humble beginnings

What would eventually evolve into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had its genesis in the Hawaiian Territorial Guard. With distrust of Japanese running extremely high after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans) soldiers then serving were actually involuntarily discharged from the Guard.

Unwilling to accept this flagrant slight to their patriotism, and filled with the same desire to avenge Pearl Harbor as most other Americans, these eager young warriors were formed into a separate all-Nisei unit that ultimately became the 100th Infantry Battalion.

The 100th Battalion was the first all-Nisei unit, although most of its officers were Caucasian. Initially staffed almost entirely of Hawaiian Japanese, the 100th would evolve into the 442nd RCT and would be fleshed out by young Nisei men from across the United States. The 442nd RCT would ultimately have three infantry battalions(the 100th, the 2nd, and the 3rd), a battalion of artillery (the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion), along with the usual supporting elements required for a regiment – medical, combat engineers, etc.

“Go For Broke”

The 442nd fought in seven major campaigns in the European Theater of Operations. It engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of the war and took horrendous casualties. The men of the 442nd were often pitted against Hitler’s finest troops and never lost a battle. Their motto, “Go For Broke,” was from a pidgin English expression in Hawaii which basically meant “shoot the works.”

Their record in combat showed that the 442nd lived by its motto. Suffering casualties enough for two or three army divisions, their skill and tenacity in combat placed them in great demand. Gen. Mark Clark said of the Nisei, “They are some of the best —damn fighters in the U.S. Army. If you have more, send them over.”

While the RCT fought in places like Anzio and Monte Cassino, the battle for which the 442nd is arguably most famous and revered is their Pyrrhic victory in rescuing the First Battalion, 141st Regiment of the 36th Division, a unit comprised mostly of Texans. In a six-day period spanning Oct. 25-30, 1944, the now veteran soldiers of the 442nd would advance nine miles against a firmly entrenched enemy at a cost of 90 men per mile to reach and relieve what became known as the “Lost Battalion.” By battle’s end, the 442nd suffered 800 casualties to save their Texas brothers who numbered only 211 men. After the war, a grateful Gov. Connolly would pass legislation declaring all members of the 442nd “Honorary Texans.”

By war’s end, the 442nd had been awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations for their extraordinary combat exploits. The men of the 442nd earned more than 9,000 Purple Hearts, more than 5,000 Bronze Stars, and almost 600 Silver Star medals. A total of 680 young men paid the ultimate price in serving a country which did not yet fully value that sacrifice.

The “Go For Broke” culture of the RCT produced valor in super abundance. Ironically, through war’s end only one member of the 442nd had been awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for combat bravery. As with a high percentage of Medals of Honor, PFC Sadao Munemori died earning his.

Prejudice, no doubt, had a role in minimizing the granting of appropriate valor awards to the Nisei. That said, 52 young members of the RCT were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation’s second highest valor medal. Of this group, 23 earned the medal posthumously. No other unit in the United States Army would match this record of achievement, sacrifice and bravery.

Separating the 442nd further from distant rivals was the effort made in the 1990s to review many of the old valor awards for possible upgrade. In June of 2000, President Clinton awarded 21 new Medals of Honor to former members of the 442nd (an additional MOH was awarded to a Nisei soldier who served in the Pacific theater.). Of those awardees, nine had been killed in Europe, and of the remaining 12, only seven were still alive to receive the recognition so well deserved. It should be noted that all but one of those receiving the MOH had earlier been DSC recipients.

The story of this unusual unit and these intrepid and once young men, a unique subset of the Greatest Generation, remains largely unknown and untold. Two cultural issues inhibit the complete proliferation of information about the 442nd to the regular civilian. First is the easily explained reluctance common among most veterans of combat to discuss the horrors of wartime experiences. When all is held back, none of the greatness, the stories of special times or friendships and sacrifices shared get passed along either.

Add to this, in this group of the reddest-blooded Americans, the still admirable and prevalent aspects of Japanese culture which stresses humility and reticence and you are limiting history, at best, to only the very closest confidants or brother warriors. Were it not for the continued presence of Hawaii’s senior U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, himself one of the seven living former DSC recipients upgraded to the Medal of Honor, there would be virtually no awareness of the 442nd outside of the Japanese-American community today.

In researching the facts for this story I am grateful for the efforts of the late Chester Tanaka and his book “Go For Broke.” Mr. Tanaka, a Nisei and combat veteran of the 442nd published his superb pictorial history in 1982. Thoroughly researched and filled with generous support from his brother soldiers, Tanaka still noted that universal tendency towards selflessness as many of the veterans, while giving critical input to his story, refused to accept attribution for their quotes.

This month marks the 58th anniversary of the savage battle to save the Lost Battalion, enough time for nearly three generations of Texans to be born and enjoy the blessings of liberty bought and paid for with Nisei blood. My sense is that few in Texas will stop to recall. Sadder though, is that nearly as few in the modern Japanese-American community will even be aware of sacrifices made by fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers – or by the 680 Nisei soldiers who never had a chance at family life.

The story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the greatest in U.S. military history, remains mired mostly in facts and figures. We know what they did and the prices they paid to do it. What we really do not know is who these young men were and why they did the incredible things they did. It is a story not just for 211 lucky Texans and the 5,000 or so Nisei soldiers, but one for all America to thoroughly celebrate.

As these silent heroes approach their twilight years, we need to impose upon them one more time, to have them overcome their cultural reluctance to draw attention to themselves and tell their stories fully. With a bitter and long war before us, the legacy of this unique group of men is the perfect medicine to steel America for whatever challenges are ahead.


Richard Botkin, a member of the WorldNetDaily.com board of directors, served during peacetime as a Marine Corps infantry officer.