"Go for Broke."
It was the motto of the 100th/442nd—an American Army unit that, by the end of World War II, became the most decorated military unit in U.S. history. It remains so to this day, given the unit's size and duration of service. (Link) "In less than two years of combat, the unit earned more than 18,000 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 21 Medals of Honor." (Link)
What many people don't know is that the 100th/442nd was a segregated Army unit composed entirely of Japanese Americans, mostly volunteers.
One of their heroic achievements is the rescue of the “Lost Battalion,” the 36th Infantry Division from the Texas National Guard. The 36th, trapped by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains of France, was running out of time and supplies. The 442nd fought through the German lines, taking 800-plus casualties, and ended up saving 211 Texans. (Link)
While the soldiers of the 100th/442nd bled and died for America, many of their families were held in internment camps established by their own country. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. turned against Japanese Americans overnight. More than 100,000 of them were sent to camps, on order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, even though the majority were American citizens. The only organization that fought against the internment was the ACLU. In the end, the Supreme Court ruled in the Korematsu case that the internment was legal.
As it turned out, not a single Japanese American was convicted of espionage against the U.S. In fact, not one was even charged with the crime.
Nevertheless, the soldiers were eager to prove their loyalty to their country. They ended up fighting in Europe and the Pacific, liberating towns and rescuing other American units. In the process, they earned the highest casualty rate.
For people who are located in the Los Angeles area, there will be a festival this Saturday, May 28th, at the Go For Broke National Education Center in the Little Tokyo district. The festival features the "Defining Courage” exhibition, which centers on the Japanese American World War II experience. In particular, there will be a special screening of the documentary film Unknown Warriors of World War II, focusing on the soldiers of the 100th/442nd. (The documentary is also available online at the link above.) A Q&A session with Director/Producer David Ono will follow the screening.
This coming Monday is Memorial Day, the day of remembrance for Americans who died while serving in the military. The festival is a timely opportunity to learn more about this moving and fascinating period in U.S. history.