Los Angeles – November 10, 2013. The Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles celebrated to opening of a new exhibit entitled, “Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts.” The exhibit is part of an extensive collection held by writer and military historian, Eric Saul.
Saul was present at the ceremony and delivered the following speech:
Go For Broke:
Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts
I think we all felt that we had an obligation to do the best we could and make a good record. So that when we came back we can come back with our heads high and say, ‘Look, we did as much as anybody else for this country and we proved our loyalty; and now we would like to take our place in the community just like anybody else and not as a segregated group of people.’ And I think it worked.
– Nisei solder, Camp Shelby, Mississippi
Hawaii is our home; the United States our country… We know but one loyalty and that is to the Stars and Stripes.
We are gathered here today to talk about a group of men. Men who fought for their country and for their community. They were fighting two wars: a war against prejudice and racism at home and a war to literally save the world from tyranny. It has now been more than 70 years since the first Nisei committed themselves to the fight for democracy.
Many of these Nisei have passed from this world and are no longer here with us to tell us their story. Some of you Nisei are in the audience today, and I will be addressing my remarks today to you.
You were among the 1,550 brave young men who, in the words of President Harry S. Truman, “fought not only the enemy, but fought prejudice, and won.”
Who were you? First of all, you were Americans. You happened to be of Japanese Ancestry. You were called Nisei. You were second generation, born in the United States. Most were born in the 1920s.
Where were you from? You were from Hawaii, Ohau, Maui, Kawai. You were also from California, Oregon and Washington. You grew up on Honolulu, Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, the Paloma District, Fresno, Seattle, Portland and in hundreds of small farming towns in the Western United States. You lived in the Little Tokyos and Nihonmachis of the big cities on the West Coast. In Hawaii, you grew up on plantations, where you toiled in the hot sun, helping to harvest and process the sugar cane.
You went to schools like McKinley, Garfield, and Roosevelt High School, named after the great presidents.
You were raised to be Americans. As American as apple pie and hot dogs. You studied the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and American history. Every day, you pledged allegiance to the flag. You learned and were taught that you could aspire to anything that you dreamed. You were proud to call yourselves Americans. And you were proud to call yourselves Americans of Japanese Ancestry.
After school, you most often reluctantly attended Japanese language school. You resented having to sit in a classroom rather than playing baseball, football or basketball.
But from your parents and these schools, you learned some special values. you learned of giri and on…having a sense of duty and a debt of gratitude. You learned gamman…quiet endurance. Gambari…to persevere. you learned oyakoko…love of the family. You were taught kodomo no tame ni…the obligation for the family. You were taught enryo…humility. A sense of kansha…gratitude. Meiyo…honor. Hokori…to have pride. And haji…not to bring shame on the family.
They were values that even today we can aspire to.
As you grew up, you watched your parents slowly succeed in the small businesses, farms, fruit orchards and nurseries. You saw your parents make a foothold in America. Your parents were Issei, who came to Hawaii and the mainland in the years before World War I.
As Nisei, you witnessed the relentless prejudice of racism that you and your parents had to endure. You were aware that you were different, and that it would be harder for you to succeed than for your neighbors of European ancestry.
As you Nisei entered your teen years, you were acutely aware of the laws that prevented your families from enjoying the full fruits of American democracy. You were aware that your parents could never become citizens. Couldn’t vote. Couldn’t own land. And couldn’t live where they wanted. You young Nisei were aware of the suspicion, the rumors, and the innuendoes made against you. It hurt you and made you feel unrightfully ashamed of your ancestry.
This prejudice and racism was, unfortunately, not unique in American history and culture. Other minorities had suffered the blows and indignities of xenophobia. Native Americans, African Americans, the Chinese, Italians, the Irish, Germans in World War II, and members of the Hispanic community, among others.
Despite the racism, your Nisei generation kept its head held high, with the pride of being an American of Japanese Ancestry.
In the early 1940s, you Nisei were coming of age, graduating high school and getting ready to go to college. At the moment when you should have looked forward to a bright and improved future, disaster struck.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a brutal blow. You were soon reminded that your faces were not like other Americans—you had the face of the enemy and all that it represented.
Hundreds of you Nisei, from Hawaii and the mainland, raced to the recruiting offices. Your blood boiled with anger that the land of your parents would attack the United States. You knew that you could prove your loyalty by joining the fight.
But your country had unjustly lost faith in you. To your surprise and horror, you were told that your services were not wanted or needed. You were classified: 4C – enemy alien. When you heard “enemy alien,” you were discouraged, but you did not lose faith in a country that turned its back on you.
There were forces in the United States that would deal you and your families the cruelest blow ever. There was talk that you were disloyal, and that you even contributed to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. You were accused of being spies and saboteurs, secretly waiting to spring up and attack your own country.
Soon, there were people calling for the removal and imprisonment of the Japanese community in Hawaii and on the mainland. Those groups included the growers’ associations in the Imperial Valley and the Central Valley in California. They were chambers of commerce, city and state governments. They were the Elks Club, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, and many other organizations.
You had few friends and advocates, and even less political power. Who would stand up to these ever-louder cries of “The Japanese Must Go!”
These voices of intolerance and bigotry were heard in the halls of Congress. Who could have imagined that the entire Congressional delegation of the West Coast could have overwhelmingly demanded your imprisonment. Soon, the Army and even the President of the United States fell victim to the irrational and unjust cries for removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.
The worst fears of the Japanese American community were realized on February 19, 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. It was promulgated ostensibly to protect the West Coast under the false argument of “military necessity.” It didn’t specifically name Japanese Americans, but all those who wrote it, justified it, and implemented it knew it was targeted against Japanese Americans.
Soon, 110,000 Americans, many who had lived in the country for more than 60 years, were forcibly removed from their lands and businesses and homes. There were scarcely more than a few days to prepare. The economic loss was in the tens of millions of dollars. The loss to the Constitution and democracy was even greater. At a time when the laws protecting the rights of all citizens should have been the strongest, they buckled under the pressure of wartime hysteria, economic jealousy, greed, and expediency.
The wholesale removal of Americans from their property was a direct violation of every American tradition of law and justice.
The nation had turned its back on Japanese Americans. But Japanese Americans did not turn their back on their country.
Who would uphold the honor of the Japanese American community? Who would defend the principles of democracy and justice?
You, the young Nisei, many of you teenagers and in your early 20s.
It was you Nisei, yourselves, with your few friends in government and in the military, who petitioned for their right to serve in the Armed Forces. Many military officers felt that Japanese Americans could not be trusted bearing arms for the United States.
But cooler heads eventually prevailed and you Nisei were given the chance to defend democracy and fight the dual enemies of prejudice at home and the wartime enemies of democracy overseas. In 1942 through early 1943, after much soul searching, the Army lifted the ban and allowed the creation of first the 100th Infantry Battalion, from Hawaii, and later the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
You Nisei volunteered from Hawaii and even the very internment camps in the United States.
As you volunteered, your fathers advised you that this is your country, your loyalty must be to the United States. They told you: fight if you must and die if you must, but remember, don’t bring shame to your family, to the community, or to your country.
Thirty-three thousand of you Nisei served this country, with incredible honor and distinction, unmatched in the military history annals of the United States. You Nisei knew that much was at stake and that you were to fight with all of your resources, to once and for all prove, to those who doubted, the loyalty of your families and your community.
The 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were segregated units. You fought in eight majors campaigns in Italy and France: Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, the Rhineland, North Apennines, Central Europe and the Po Valley. You liberated numerous towns and villages throughout Europe, including the Italian port city of Leghorn, and the strategic town of Bruyères, France.
You Nisei of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team fought the toughest troops the Nazis could throw against you. They were battle-hardened troops from the Afrika Korps. SS troops, Panzer brigades, and soldiers from the Hermann Goering Division. You brave Nisei soldiers fought with the great divisions of the Fifth Army and the Seventh Army, including the 34th, 36th and 92nd Divisions. You fought courageously alongside the 10th Mountain Division and the 45th and 91st Divisions.
You Nisei soldiers earned about 4,000 Purple Hearts. 719 Nisei men made the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in action. The 100th/442nd suffered the highest combat casualty rate of any unit in World War II. There was a replacement rate of 314%. Ironically, many of those who were killed or wounded had volunteered from American concentration camps. You Nisei were awarded 18,143 individual decorations for bravery, including: 21 Congressional Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses; 1 Distinguished Service Medal; 588 Silver Stars; 22 Legion of Merit medals; 19 Soldier’s Medals; 5,200 Bronze Stars and 14 Croix de Guerre, among many other decorations.
Incredibly, it became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the 238 year history of the United States Army. That record remains today. The 100/442 received an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations.
The “Go For Broke” exploits of the Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team have been well publicized and recognized, and rightfully so, as the unsurpassed combat record of Japanese Americans who fought as an integral military unit in Italy and France. The Military Intelligence Service story, on the other hand, is one of numerous small units of Nisei soldiers who operated in teams of ten to twenty men assigned to every combat division, Army corps and every campaign in the war against Japan. You Nisei were on detached service to the U.S. Navy, Marines and Army Air Corps. You were assigned to the British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, Chinese and Indian combat units.
It is also the story of much larger groups of Nisei who served at intelligence centers at army and area headquarters level. Three main intelligence centers were operated, in the Southwest Pacific Area under General Douglas MacArthur, the Central Pacific Ocean Area under Admiral Chester Nimitz, and the China-Burma-India Area (CBI) under General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell.
Through it all, as indispensable translators of captured enemy documents, interrogators of enemy POWs and persuaders of enemy surrender, you Nisei were superbly effective. You also worked laboriously over tons of enemy documents—maps, battle plans, diaries, letters, records, manuals—at area headquarters, producing voluminous intelligence of all sorts that affected Allied strategy and operations.
From the frozen tundra of Attu, to the coral atolls of the Pacific, the jungles of New Guinea, the Philippines and Burma, the lava terrain of Iwo Jima and the bloodied escarpments of Okinawa, you Nisei were everywhere, obtaining intelligence from enemy documents, POWs and enemy communications, and calling upon the enemy to surrender. When needed, you operated behind enemy lines and parachuted on assignments without real parachute training. In Burma and elsewhere, you crept to within hearing distance of enemy troops to learn their movements, at times tapping and listening to the enemy’s telephone communications.
Major General Charles Willoughby, G-2, intelligence chief of MacArthur’s command, is credited with stating that you Nisei shortened the Pacific war by two years and saved a million American lives.
You might aptly use the words of Winston Churchill and state that “never had so many owed so much to so few.”
When the war ended in August of 1945, the work was not over for you Nisei, for now you were needed to bridge the language and cultural gap in the Allied Occupation of Japan. You did, performing again an indispensable role.
The U.S. occupation of Japan was one of the most benevolent and benign in world history. You Japanese Americans helped write new laws and create new institutions. You helped in the institution of the modern Japanese constitution. You helped institute progressive land reforms and civil rights for Japanese women. One of the reasons Japan is the modern nation that it is today is due to the role of you Japanese Americans in facilitating the transition from a military state to a democratic one. More than 5,000 Japanese Americans worked in Japan during the occupation, from 1945 to 1952.
For you Nisei of MIS, further, there was a certain compassionate dilemma to be resolved in your hearts and minds. Being Japanese by blood, whose parents had come from Japan, you would literally be fighting your kin, but your loyalty to country had to be upheld. You had been taught at home, “To thy parents be truly respectful and to thy country be utterly loyal.”
I had, myself, the honor to interview a number of you Nisei soldiers. I asked you, “Why did you volunteer for the Army?” Over and over again, you told me “It was so that my parents, my family, and my children could have a better life than I had.” You did it so that the racism that existed so prominently on Hawaii and the West Coast would be ended. You fought and sacrificed so that you would never have your loyalty questioned again.
You Niseis not only helped win the war overseas, but also helped win the war at home against prejudice, intolerance and misunderstanding.
Indeed, your children and all of us are the beneficiaries of this incredible wartime military history.
Because of the wartime service of you Nisei soldiers, the 500 laws in California and Hawaii that stood against Asians were struck down. You Nisei saw your parents become citizens in 1954. You saw your parents vote for the first time and actually own their own land. You saw your children succeed in business and the professions. You saw your comrade soldiers become legislators and political leaders, advancing the cause of civil rights for other minorities and groups in America.
You might say you Nisei were the greatest generation within the greatest generation.
When you Nisei came home from the war, you didn’t tell your wives, your families, or your children of your wartime experiences. The reasons were many. Because of the painful loss of your friends, the trauma of war, and because of your value of enryo—humility.
In 1988, after a long period of soul-searching, America apologized to the Japanese American community for its failures during the war. The very act that promulgated this reconciliation with democracy was named House Resolution 442, after the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
In 2000, 20 long-overdue Medals of Honor were awarded to Nisei in a ceremony at the White House.
One of the most remarkable legacies came after September 11, 2001. I remember clearly watching the news when President George Bush, standing alongside his Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, assuaged the fears of Arab Americans by saying that we were not going to repeat the mistakes of the past and that Arab Americans had nothing to fear from their country.
In 2011, the Congress of the United States ordered its highest award, the Congressional Gold Medal, to you Nisei soldiers of World War II.
As former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki said, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”
A few years ago, I remember speaking to one of my K Company friends, Tosh Okamoto, and he said to me, “You know, the awarding of the Medals of Honor to our boys is sort of the icing on the cake. I’ve sort of been angry for a long time at my country and what happened to us during the internment. Getting redress and the apology, and having the country recognize my buddies, lifted a cloud from my head. I now really feel like I’m truly American, and it was all worth it.”
Let us all remember and learn from these great men, the 33,000 Nisei who fought their precious war 70 years ago and won their place in history.
* * * * *
Sgt Masa Sakamoto was from Northern California. He was killed in Sospel. I was told to go up and get his body and bring it down. We had a little service in the cave there and it was my duty as the Chaplain to search his pockets in order to get everything home that can be sent home. I found a letter…all of his brothers were in the army in Japan…some vandals in California had burned down his father’s home and barn in the name of patriotism. And yet this young man had volunteered for every patrol that he could go on. You know, you can’t give a medal high enough for a man like that. We don’t realize how much these boys in California had to go through…to find a letter like that and his going out on a patrol and being killed.
– Chaplain Hiro Higuchi, 2nd Battalion 442nd RCT
We were one well-trained unit. We knew exactly what these guys are gonna do. We knew they not gonna bug out on you, they gonna protect you. So that’s why we don’t have any outstanding heroes. We never leave a guy out there by himself. We’ll be all together. We fought as a unit. We would never leave a guy out there flat by himself and come back. We would fight together till we get everybody out or take our objective. As simple as that. A lot of times if you have an organization where you leave a guy out there by himself, the rest of the guys pull away, you gonna have a problem. You have trouble later on. But we never did that. We always stayed together and fought as a team.