The U.S. Postal Service is issuing the Go For Broke Soldiers commemorative postage stamp in 2021!
Learn about the inspiring story behind these American soldiers from World War II. They served with distinction and honor despite the U.S. incarceration of their families, friends, and communities.
This American Story
When the world discovered that Japan was to blame for the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, misguided outrage was directed against Americans of Japanese heritage. Two-thirds of them were American citizens, born and raised in the U.S. Whole families, mainly in west coast states, were forced into war detention camps, also called “internment camps.”
Overall, 120,000 were forced from their homes by President Franklin D. Roosevelt under his Executive Order 9066, enacted on February 19, 1942. Despite such harsh treatment, thousands enlisted from the camps. By war’s end, over 33,000 Japanese Americans enlisted in the U.S. military. They mainly served in segregated units made up of mostly Japanese Americans. A few did serve outside these units integrated into the U.S. Army and Navy, but they were the exception. Most served overseas, but many provided needed support for our military domestically, too
It is important to note that there was an understandable strong pull against military service under the circumstances of the incarceration camps, and a number of individuals chose not to serve. Some who were drafted demanded that their civil rights be restored first, and then they would commit to enlisting. Such men are called “draft resisters of conscience.” Draft resisters were tried in courts across the nation, and generally had to serve prison time from 3 months to 3 years. In California, Judge Louis Goodman sided with the 27 resisters from Tule Lake camp he was presiding over, and dismissed charges. He said the situation was “shocking to the conscience” that the U.S. would incarcerate an American citizen in the internment camps simply on suspicion of disloyalty, draft him, and then prosecute him for refusing to serve. All who were charged were later pardoned by President Harry Truman.
Within the Japanese American community, this generation is referred to as the Nisei [a Japanese word pronounced, KNEE-say], which means second generation, or the children born in America to parents who were from Japan. Their parents are called the Issei, [pronouced, EE-say], which means first generation.
The Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), including the 100th Infantry Battalion, became the most highly-decorated unit for its size and length of service in American military history. These men fought for the U.S. and its allies across southern and central Europe in many key battles.
Their Rescue of the Lost Battalion is legendary. The Nisei soldiers freed 211 surviving soldiers of the Texas 36th Infantry Division that had become completely surrounded by some 6,000 Germans, deep in the forests of the Vosges Mountains in France near Biffontaine. Other efforts to rescue the men from the 36th Division failed, and the “Go For Broke” soldiers were called in. The Nisei soldiers were committed to succeeding, and did so through five days of intense battle, taking some 800 casualties in the process, and approximately 160 killed in action. The 100th/442nd soldiers were later named “Honorary Texans” in 1963 by Texas Governor John Connally for their actions (scroll to the bottom of this page for more details in a special section).
Watch this 2-minute story about the Lost Battalion rescue from the perspective of Erwin Blonder, one of the men from the 36th who was rescued (Courtesy of the National World War II Museum):
The 100th/442nd soldiers also broke through the German “Gothic Line” in Italy, which had repelled repeated assaults for months by Allied Forces. They took just one day to do this using a daring frontal assault under the cover of night straight up a key mountain where German forces were entrenched. The Nisei from the 100th led the drive against the Germans at Monte Cassino. Towns such as Bruyeres, Biffontaine, and Belvedere were freed by the Nisei troops. The Nisei also helped to liberate and care for Holocaust victims from the Dachau. They would help the Jewish people, ironically, while their own families and friends were behind barbed wire back in the U.S.
Japanese Americans also served with great distinction in the Pacific Theater in the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS). The MIS is credited with shortening the war in the Pacific by at least two years, and saving countless lives through their use of the Japanese language to support Allied war efforts. They served as key members of “Merrills’ Marauders,” infiltrating Japanese controlled areas in Southeast Asia.
In their various roles attached to other units serving throughout the Pacific Theater, the MIS Nisei soldiers translated documents that were intercepted from the Japanese, revealing dates and times of attacks. They served as interrogators of Japanese prisoners of war, and helped ease tensions between Japanese and American occupiers following Japan’s surrender. MIS translators were critical during the surrender of Japan, serving as official language and cultural translators, which aided in the rebuilding process during America’s occupation of Japan. The Nisei of the MIS are considered the founders of today’s U.S. Armed Forces Defense Language Institute (DLI). The DLI has become critical to the success of our Armed Forces as we face global threats from many corners of the world. The need to understand the languages and cultures of different nations has grown since World War II, and the Nisei helped to establish the foundation to build the DLI into what it is today.
Among over 18,000 awards, the Japanese American soldiers of World War II earned 21 Medals of Honor, 9 Presidential Unit Citations, and 9,486 Purple Hearts for their sacrifices in Europe and the Pacific. The Japanese American soldiers of World War II have been singled out by a number of our nation’s presidents for their outstanding service and immense sacrifices, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush (See Famous Quotations page).
Japanese American women enlisted in the US Army as well. They served in the Women’s Army Corps, freeing up men who were working clerical jobs so they could serve on the front lines. They also served in the Army’s Nurse Corps and Cadet Nurse Corps.
The testimony of the Nisei veterans before Congress was key in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law, admitting wartime bias against Japanese Americans, and setting an example for wartime protections of Americans in the future.
The “Go For Broke” commemorative postage stamp collectively honors all American men and women of Japanese heritage who served in the U.S. military during World War II.
What does “Go For Broke” mean?
Go For Broke veterans (wearing caps) at a California event in 2007.
“Go For Broke” is the original motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This phrase means “Go for your goal with all of your effort, and all you have.”
Go For Broke soldiers now collectively refers to all of the American men and women of Japanese heritage who served in the U.S. military during World War II.
Our campaign used this motto as inspiration to keep going despite all of the hurdles we faced during our 15 plus year effort to get a U.S. commemorative postage stamp in their honor.
Reprinted as a Nisei Legacy tribute posting from the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA), August 17, 2016. By the JAVA Research Team.
Governor John A. Connally issued a proclamation (seen above) on October 21, 1963, that made members of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised of Japanese Americans, honorary citizens of Texas for saving a Texas battalion which was trapped by the Germans during WW II. The 442nd was attached to the 36th (Texas) Division for the Vosges Forests, located in northeastern France, campaign.
On October 26, 1944, two days after members of the 1st Battalion, 141st (Alamo) Regiment, was trapped, Major General John E. Dahlquist, Division Commander, ordered the 442nd to save them. After 5 days of bitter combat under conditions of rain, sleet and snow including hand to hand combat with fixed bayonets, 211 Texans walked out. Following his capture, the German commander revealed under interrogation that Hitler had personally ordered to kill them all, take no prisoners. The 442nd took huge casualties. One company, which started a battle with 180 men had 8 men standing when a battle was over; another company had 16. Saburo Tanamachi, a 442nd member from Texas, whose hometown was San Benito, was killed in this rescue effort.
Many members of the 442nd enlisted from Army-guarded internment camps, where 110,000 ethnic Japanese, over one half of them US citizens, were confined because the government viewed them collectively as disloyal. A congressionally-mandated commission concluded in 1983 that internment was not necessary, that it was caused by racial prejudice, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership. Although imprisoned, Japanese Americans volunteered for combat duty to prove their loyalty.
The 442nd fought true to the Army dictum: don’t leave your buddy behind, save them at all costs. This operation also helped the 36th Division smash the German fortress in the Vosges forests thus giving the 7th Army a clear shot for the invasion of the German homeland.
Members of the 442nd RCT and 36th Division were not strangers to each other when the 442nd joined the 36th in the Vosges. Earlier, during the Italian campaigns, the 36th and the 34th (Iowa) Division, to which the 442nd was attached, served alongside each other. Each unit had high respect for the other.
When WW II ended, the US Army declared that the 442nd RCT had the best combat performance record for its size and period of combat. There was no AWOL and no desertion. Additional information about the Japanese American experience during WW II and its legacy can be found on the Japanese American Veterans Association website (click here to link)..
Governor John Connally
(Courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission)
More from Texas
To learn more about the stamp campaign, and the Go For Broke soldiers’ connections with Texas, Texas Standard did a story on December 2nd, 2020:
Texas Standard host WF Strong’s 2019 Memorial Day story featuring the Go For Broke soldiers:
For more detailed information on their inspiring story, here are a few suggested websites to visit: