During WWII, Japanese Americans formed a racially segregated U.S. Army Unit, known as “Go For Broke,” symbolizing strong cultural attributes.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese living in the U.S. (two-thirds were American citizens) were being prepared to be forced out of their homes, to various internment camps, by the U.S. government. Later during the war the Japanese Nisei men were given the opportunity to enlist as U.S. soldiers; many volunteered to fight in a segregated all Japanese combat unit, regardless of the tormented Issei parents (1st generation Japanese who were Japanese citizens). While the unit became the most decorated (over 18,000 Individual Citations and eight Presidential Unit Citations), it also has been known as “Purple Heart Battalion” with more men killed and injured in U.S. Army history.
“No No Boys” and Formation of Unit 442
Being forced to live behind barbed wire, many Japanese Americans resigned themselves to the life of segregation from the rest of America and to be treated as criminals without just cause until a questionnaire came to test their loyalty to the U.S. Anguish arose over two questions;
Q27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?
Q 28: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from all attacks by foreign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?
If they answer “yes” to Q27, they would be fighting against their relatives in Japan, and regarding Q28, many Nisei were confused as they never had allegiance to the Japanese Emperor, while Issei were afraid to answer “yes”, which might force them to become stateless since they were already excluded from becoming U.S. citizens.
Out of 75,000 questionnaires collected, 6,700 of them answered “no” to both questions. These men were called “No No Boys” as disloyal and were sent to Tule Lake Camp, which became the last camp to close in 1946. Those who answered “yes” became the soldiers of the segregated all Japanese Unit 442, joined by Japanese-Americans from Hawaii.
Historic Deployment of Unit 442 and Its Heroic Actions
The unit became a highly united regiment which carried the slogan, “Go for Broke.” The average height of the soldiers was 5’3”, below average. However, their Caucasian commanding officer viewed the Unit as much more than average.
Once deployed, the Unit’s campaign achieved one of the most impressive records; seven major campaigns in Europe, two beachhead assaults, capture of a submarine, rescue of the Lost Battalion 275 Texas Infantry during the battle of Bruyères (one of the ten most impressive battles in U.S. military history), and liberation of over 3,000 Jewish prisoners in Dachau.
The Texas Infantry were shocked to see their liberators were Japanese. Dachau was the first Concentration Camp opened in Germany by Nazis and Unit 442 was among the 1st Allied Units to liberate Jewish prisoners there. Pierre Moulin praised the all-Japanese unit as “U.S. Samurais.”
Their heroic acts saved many lives at a heavy cost (300 lives were saved in the Lost Battalion; 700 deaths and injuries in Unit 442). By the end of the war Unit 442 had a casualty rate of 314% receiving 9,486 Purple Hearts.
Returning to the US and Post Internment Camp
In August of 1945, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed by the U.S. nuclear weapons and the war ended shortly after that. Survivors from the war from Unit 442 returned to their families in the U.S., only to find poverty and struggle against continuing prejudice. In 1948, President Truman signed the “Evacuation Claims Act” which paid the internees less than ten cents per dollar for lost property (many were unable to qualify due to lack of proof of losses).
Many Japanese released from the camps had lost their homes and had nowhere to go. Businesses were still reluctant to hire Japanese. There were still heated debates among Americans whether to accept Japanese Americans as “loyal citizens” or enemies.
In Japanese communities in the U.S., not only did many families have to face a son’s death, but also their sorrow extended to the tragedy of the effects of the war on family members in Japan. Moreover, they dealt with harsh animosities between the men (and relatives of) those who joined Unit 442, and those who didn’t.
In an interview of a veteran from Unit 442, he commented that you have to get some kind of proof that you went and you got for what you did. The proof for the Unit was the numerous awards earned from combat bravely and commitment.
However, it is the cultural values from their Japanese background, such as honor, perseverance, and conformity, enhanced by their segregation, which were responsible for their extraordinary military achievements; the same values that had been demonstrated by Japanese Imperial soldiers.
- Go for Broke National Education Center, Web
- Shioya, Tara, The Conflict Behind the Battle Lines, The Japanese Americans who Fought in World War II were Engaged in Another, Private Battle Against Prejudice and Misunderstandings?Virtual museum of the City of San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 1995, Web
- Sites of Shame, Densho, Web
- Takezawa, Yasuko, Breaking the Silence, Redress and Japanese American Ethnicity, London: Cornell University Press, 1995.
- Tharp, Mike, Three Men Who Went for Broke, Oct 31, 2009, Merced Sun-Star, Web