442nd Regimental Combat Team
"Go For Broke" was the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an Army unit comprised of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland United States. The motto was derived from a gambler's slang used in Hawaii to "go for broke," which meant that the player was risking it all in one effort to win big.1 The player would put everything on the line.
It was an apt motto for the soldiers of the 442nd. As Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, and American-born sons of Japanese immigrants during World War II, they needed to put everything on the line to "win big." For these Nisei, they were fighting to win two wars: the war against the Germans in Europe and the war against racial prejudice in America.
The Japanese represented the largest ethnic group in the small island community of Hawaii. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Nisei, like everyone else on the islands, responded to the emergency. They pitched in with other locals to aid the wounded, sort through the rubble, give blood, and bury the dead. Members of the Hawaii Territorial Guard, the Nisei cadets in the University of Hawaii's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), stood watch over Iolani Palace, Hawaii's government center, and utility installations.2
But on January 19, 1942, the Army disbanded the Hawaii Territorial Guard - only to reform the unit the following day without the Nisei. By the end of March, all Japanese American men of draft age were redesignated as "IV-C" or "enemy aliens." As enemy aliens, they could not enlist in the armed forces.
The Nisei cadets felt deep despair when confronted with such racism. But community leaders convinced the demoralized students to persevere. The students then petitioned the military governor: "Hawaii is our home; the United States is our country. We know but one loyalty and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans in every way possible, and we hereby offer ourselves for whatever service you may see fit to use us."3
The students gave up their books and their chance for the education that would afford them opportunities beyond their plantation and construction jobs. Instead, they became the "Varsity Victory Volunteers," or "Triple V" - a manual labor support group for the US Army. They picked up shovels and hammers. Under the supervision of the US Army Corps of Engineers, they built barracks, dug ditches, quarried rock and surfaced roads from January to December 1942.
Their dedication and willingness to serve their country in whatever way possible made a significant impression on military officials. The Varsity Victory Volunteers finally got their chance to fight. On January 28, 1943, the War Department announced that it was forming an all-Nisei combat team and called for 1,500 volunteers from Hawaii. An overwhelming 10,000 men volunteered, including many men from the VVV.4
On the mainland, the reception was much less enthusiastic. The War Department set a goal of 3,000 recruits, and came away with just 1,182.5 The difference clearly stemmed from the drastically different treatment faced by mainland Japanese Americans, who were subject to intense fear and suspicion in their everyday lives.
Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, officials began plans to "evacuate" the Japanese American community. Any thoughts of moving the more than 150,000 Japanese Americans in the Hawaiian Islands were quickly abandoned given the logistics and the economics of a territory heavily reliant on the Japanese community, which made up nearly 40% of the population there. But on the mainland, the "relocation" of the Japanese American community was quickly becoming a reality.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which laid the groundwork for the mass relocation of more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to remote "camps." As early as February 25, officials began moving families away from military areas along the West Coast, beginning with Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, Washington, and then Terminal Island in Los Angeles Harbor. Whole families were incarcerated in crowded, tar paper barracks, in the desolate wind-swept desert.
Yet even from behind the barbed wire, and despite the fact that many of their own rights had been taken away, some 1,100 American-born Japanese men volunteered to fight for their homeland, America.
On February 1, 1943, President Roosevelt activated the 442nd RCT. Hawaii-born Nisei made up about two-thirds of the regiment. The remaining one-third were Nisei from the mainland. The islanders were nicknamed "Buddhaheads." While some theorized the nickname stemmed from "buta," the Japanese word for pig, others claimed it was a reference to Buddhist monks who shaved their heads. The mainlanders were "Katonks" (or "Kotonks"), which for some represented the hollow sound their heads made when they hit the floor in a fistfight. In April 1943, the Buddhaheads and the Katonks arrived for training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Immediately, the two groups clashed with each other.
The Buddhaheads thought the mainlanders were sullen and unfriendly. The Katonks found the islanders to be impulsive and crude. While the Katonks spoke formal, standard English, the Buddhaheads spoke Pidgin, or Hawaiian vernacular, a mixture of Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese and English.
Money was another source of division between the groups. The Buddhaheads gambled heavily and spent freely using the cash sent by their parents who still worked in Hawaii. They thought the Katonks were cheap, because they were less liberal with their money. They didn't realize that many of them sent most of their meager Army pay to their families imprisoned in the incarceration centers. The Katonks hardly discussed their families' situation.
Misunderstandings, often fueled by alcohol, turned into fistfights. The friction between the two groups was so extreme that the military high command considered disbanding the 442nd. They doubted whether the men could ever fight as a unit.
To solve the problem, the Army decided to send a group of Buddhaheads to visit the incarceration centers in nearby Arkansas. The men thought Jerome and Rowher were little towns with Japanese families. But when the trucks rolled past the barbed wire fence, past the guard towers armed with machine guns pointed at the center residents, past the tar paper barracks where whole families crowded in small compartments with no privacy, the Buddhaheads finally understood. Word of the "camps" spread quickly, and the Buddhaheads gained a whole new respect for the Katonks. Immediately, the men in the 442nd became united, like a tightly clenched fist.6
From May 1943 through February 1944 the men trained for combat. During training, many would be sent as replacements for the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) fighting in Europe. The men excelled at maneuvers and learned to operate as a team. In April the regiment packed up, and on April 22, 1944, the men left Camp Shelby for their first overseas assignment in Europe.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team included the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, 206th Army Ground Force Band, Antitank Company, Cannon Company, Service Company, medical detachment, headquarters companies, and three infantry battalions. The 1st Infantry Battalion remained in the States to train new recruits. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions would join the legendary 100th Battalion, which was already fighting in Italy. The 100th would in essence become the new 1st Battalion of the 442nd RCT. However, it was allowed to keep the "100th Battalion" name in recognition of its unparalleled combat record.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service, in the entire history of the US Military. In total, about 18,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented seven Presidential Unit Citations.
ORAL HISTORY CLIPS
Please place this oral history clip next to the paragraph that begins �To solve the problem, the Army decided to send a group of Buddhaheads to visit the incarceration centers in nearby Arkansas.� PLEASE EDIT OUT THE SECTION IN RED, IF POSSIBLE.
137 Daniel Inouye
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Oh, that was an unusual thing because when we arrived in Mississippi in Camp Shelby, here were two major groups from Hawaii and from the mainland. And within five minutes, you could tell whether that person came from the mainland or that person came from Hawaii. For one thing, we were darker of complexion, and our Japanese and English must have sounded like gibberish to our mainland cousins, because we spoke a unique brand of pidgin, a mixture of English, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and God knows what else. And on the other hand, the mainland men were rather gentle, fair of skin, spoke the King's language with precision, most of them. And oftentimes they'd be listening into our conversations and they would smile or snicker. And the men from Hawaii resented that, and that, believe it or not, became a major cause of concern.
As a result of this type of misunderstanding, fights became commonplace throughout the whole regiment, to a point where the senior officers of the regiment at one time considered disbanding the regiment. Most people don't know this, but we nearly got disbanded and scattered all over the United States. And so the leadership tried all---they tried everything: discussion groups, social hours, and nothing worked, not with young men like that. Finally, somebody must have had a bright idea. I don't know who it is, but that person really deserves the best medal that we can ever give out, because what happened, all of a sudden each company in the regiment began receiving invitations from Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas.
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You know, Senator, I'm going to stop you right now. Are we changing tapes?
No, we've changed tapes.
Oh, you did? Oh, Okay. I'm sorry, go ahead. Continue.
And we had no idea what Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas meant, because the invitation did not speak of a camp. And so we thought that this was a Japanese community in Arkansas, and just by coincidence, each company had to select 10 men. The company commander would select 10. And by coincidence, all 10 were men from Hawaii. None from the mainland, at least not in my company. I was a corporal then, and I found myself one of the fortunate ones to be selected as an invitee. And so, the night before we really gussied up. Next morning we had our uniforms were all creased and clean, and all shaven and smelling nice. Haircuts. To spend a lovely weekend hoping to meet the young lovely mainland damsels.
So here we are with our ukuleles and guitars, if you can picture that, quite a riot. And we're singing all the way from Mississippi to Arkansas. Until we---I recall turning the bend and looking out, you could see in the flat land, in the valley, rows of buildings. And we thought, wow, here's a military camp because it looks just like our camp. Wooden barracks. And this one had a tall fence around, barbed wire fence. And unlike our area, there were machine gun towers at certain intervals. And you could see somebody up there handling a gun. But when we got closer and we turned into it, then we began to realize what was happening.
The men who were manning the guns were Caucasian men. They were military people. At that time, the military was in charge, the Army. They had rifles with bayonets, and here we were with ukuleles, you know. We didn't bring our guns. And we were told to get off the cars, and thank God they didn't search us because if they had searched us, I think we would have resented that.
But then we trooped in into the camp, and there you could see men and women and children of Japanese ancestry. And we realized we were in a camp of some sort, a prison camp or something like that, because why else would they have these machine gun towers. It didn't take long to realize what had happened. And then we realized that the people there had set aside one week's ration of food so that they could give us a party. They had an orchestra and all of that. We tried our best to be happy, but how can you be happy in those circumstances? They had set aside several of their barracks so that we could spend the evening there, and the occupants would camp in with other families or in the mess hall. And we said, "No, we can't do that." So we slept in the trucks and in the mess hall and outdoors.
But then when we left there and went back to Mississippi, obviously the mood on the trucks were different. In my truck, for example, no one sang. In fact, there was no conversation. If you can imagine a truck full of GIs leaving an area like this and not a word said. Not a word. Just quiet. Every man, eyes closed or looking out in the open, thinking, whatever it is, to himself. And I believe that what was running through the minds of most, if not all, was a question: would I have volunteered from that camp?
Now that's a very important and profound question. Now we in Hawaii had a pretty good life. We were not sent to camps. Yes, the priests and some of the teachers went, but the rest of us, we carried on in our work as usual, went to school and the teachers were good to us. We had our senior proms, but they were not in the evening. So life was business as usual. But then when this came upon us, that question was a very important one, and immediately our assessment and estimate of our mainland cousins suddenly changed. In our eyes, they were heroes, that they would take that step, in spite of this incarceration, to stand up and defend the country that did that to them.
8/19/1996 • World War II
The Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team fought bravely in eight major campaigns.
By Michael D. Hull
Army Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii dreamed of becoming a doctor after World War II, but his hopes were shattered on an embattled ridge overlooking the Italian town of San Terenzo in April 1945. Inouye was leading a platoon of the 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, when it came under fire from a bunker manned by die-hard Italian Fascists fighting for the Germans. There was no cover on the hill, so Inouye crawled up alone to reconnoiter.
Daniel K. Inouye - 5.0 K
While his men were pinned down by enemy fire, Inouye, bleeding from the stomach, staggered farther up the hill and threw two more grenades into the second enemy position. He fell again. Dragging himself toward the third machine-gun position, he stood up and pulled the pin from another grenade. Just as he was about to throw it, an enemy rifle grenade smashed his right elbow. His men ran to help him, but the young officer ordered them back. With his good left hand, he tossed the grenade and destroyed the position. With his right arm flapping at his side, he started finishing off the enemy survivors with his Tommy gun. Then he was hit in the right leg and fell down the hill. When his men ran to him, Inouye yelled: “Get back up that hill! Nobody called off the war!” He refused to be evacuated until his men were deployed in defensive positions.
Twenty-five enemy troops were killed and eight captured in the action. Inouye’s right arm had to be amputated, and his dream of becoming a doctor ended. But he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. And, many years later, Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye went to Washington to represent Hawaii, the first Japanese-American member of Congress.
His bravery, incredible though it was, was not unusual in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), whose indomitable esprit de corps became a legend of the U.S. Army in World War II. Made up of Nisei (Japanese-American citizens), it fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, Southern France, the Rhineland and Central Europe from September 1943 to May 1945 and won seven Presidential Unit Citations. Some high-ranking U.S. officers, initially opposed to the use of Nisei troops, came to regard them as the best assault troops in the Army. The 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442nd suffered so many wounds and deaths at Monte Cassino that it was nicknamed “the Purple Heart Battalion.”
The 442nd “Go for Broke” RCT was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in American military history, and Honor By Fire (Presidio Press, Novato, Calif., 1995, $24.95) is the definitive book on the group. The author, Lyn Crost, covered the 100th Battalion for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and she has written a thorough, dramatic and compelling narrative.
Crost explains that the Nisei GIs’ service was all the more heroic because, while they were fighting for their country and freedom, their own liberties were from time to time in question. Many of their relatives were languishing in internment camps on the West Coast, and the soldiers themselves encountered racial prejudice while training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, during their overseas service, and even after they returned to America with many battle streamers pinned to their colors. As President Harry S. Truman told the 100th Battalion when it returned from Italy in July 1946, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice–and you have won.”
The Nisei troops were known for the unique enthusiasm and cheerfulness with which they went into action–whether fighting their way up numerous craggy ridges in the bitter Italian campaign or battling in the winter-shrouded Vosges Mountains to rescue 140 surrounded men of the 36th (“Texas”) Infantry Division. There, the Japanese-Americans suffered 800 casualties.
Crost’s narrative of the 442nd RCT’s progress through the war is liberally laced with stories of valor and sacrifice. The Nisei were awarded 18,143 decorations, including 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, 560 Silver Stars (28 with Oak-leaf clusters), 22 Legions of Merit, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 12 Croix de Guerre and 9,486 Purple Hearts. This compelling chronicle also recounts the indispensable service of the 6,000 Nisei linguists of the Military Intelligence Service who took part in every Pacific theater campaign from New Guinea to the Aleutian Islands to Okinawa. Honor By Fire is the first public acknowledgment of their deeds. Crost’s book is a moving and powerful account, a richly deserved group portrait of young men who displayed physical and moral heroism of the highest order.