MILITARY: 442ND Infantry Regiment – Go For Broke

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, hiking up a muddy French road in the Chambois Sector, France, in late 1944.

Recently NPR aired a segment regarding the huge influx of Asian Americans joining the ranks of the armed services.  However I was very angry at the comment she made that more Asian Americans are joining because of prominent soldiers who “look like them.”

Thus by huge almost cosmic coincidence I was reminded by my late night Wikipedia searches and James G about the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team.  This was an entirely Asian American fighting unit that served with distinction throughout World War 2.

21 members of the unit were recipients of the Medal of Honor.  With a total of 9,486 purple hearts, one of its components the 100th infantry battalion was aptly dubbed the Purple Heart brigade.

Composed entirely of Nisei Japanese these second generation Japanese American citizens saw their families interned in relocation camps following the xenophobia as Japanese Americans were seen as interlopers.

Even in the face of such discrimination when the army asked for 1500 volunteers from Hawaii and 3000 from the mainland, nearly 10000 from Hawaii alone stepped forward to answer the call to arms.

The 442nd in training, building then attacking across a pontoon bridge at Camp Shelby

The 442nd began life when the two Hawaiian provisional battalions were formed to become the 100th infantry battalion the “one puka puka.”  Created in fear that an all Japanese battalion would be untrustworthy if Hawaii were ever invaded the unit was shipped to the mainland for training.

At Camp McCoy the 100th infantry battalion would perform so well in training that the US Army on February 1, 1943 reversed its decision barring Japanese Americans from serving in the armed forces.  Nearly 4000 men would be inducted to serve within the ranks of the newly formed 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team.

President Roosevelt when announcing the formation of the “Go for broke regiment” famously said “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.”

The 442nds 100th Infantry battalion component would see its first taste of combat as it hit the beaches at Salerno in September 22, 1943, and would participate in the assault on Monte Cassino.

The 100th fought valiantly and by February 1944 could only muster 521 men.  The decimated battalion would still join the defense of Anzio and participate in the final push for Rome.  The road to Rome would be filled with feats of heroism as the men of the Purple Heart battalion proved their mettle at places such as Highway 7.

And by June 5th the Task Force was only 7 miles outside the capitol; with victory in sight the men of the 100th battalion saw their long awaited victory in front of them.  In the end their advance was not halted by the German Wermacht but by George Harmon of the First Armored Division.  These tired men had to face such an indignity as they watched their fellow soldiers bask in the glory of the liberated citizens of Rome.

A 442nd RCT squad leader checks for German units in France in November 1944.

The 442nd would then participate in the push through Italy and join the invasion of southern France.  The 442nd would join the fight to liberate Bruyeres and was attached to the 36th infantry Division.  The 1st infantry battalion of the 36th would become known as the lost battalion.

Against the advice of his commanding officers Maj General John E Dahlquist committed the men to the engagement.  Lieutenant Blonder of the 1st would only know just how surrounded he and his men were when an advance force of 36 men sent out to scout the line only returned with 5.
On the hillside the Germans were reinforcing with tanks and artillery as they cornered their prey.  For General Dahlquist and the Germans the unit wasn’t truly lost.  However knowing where they were and effecting a rescuing were two entirely different matters.

After two failed attempts to break through the thick German lines General Dahlquist would send in the 442nd whose men were already pushed to the breaking point after days of fighting in the Vosges.  However these were the men of the “go for broke regiment” and these men would put everything they had on the line to accomplish their mission.

The fighting was fierce as the crack German troops left no piece of land without making the 442nd pay for it in blood.  After 5 days of fighting the 442nd broke through to rescue 230 men of the 1st of the 36th.

The 442nd would suffer nearly 800 casualties when they finally broke enemy lines.  I Company went in with 185 men; eight walked out unhurt. K Company began with 186 men; 17 walked out.

Private First Class Matt Sakumoto was the point man, the first friendly face the 230 survivors of the surrounded battalion had seen in a week.  He stared out at the Texan who’s eyes were filling up with tears.

It was an emotion charged moment of silence…what can one says at a time like that.  Turning to the mud blacked face, tears streaming down the cheeks from sunken eyes, Pfc Sakumoto could only say, “Want a smoke?”

The 442nd would go down in history as the most decorated American fighting unit for its size and time of service.  The 442nd is commonly reported to have suffered a casualty rate of 314 percent, informally derived from 9,486 Purple Hearts divided by some 3,000 original in-theater personnel.

Also it was one of the few units that had zero battlefield desertions.  The spirit of these men lives on in the modern ethos of today’s fighting men.  There fuck it drive on attitude and never leave a man behind showed an America reeling in paranoia against the Japanese that an American is an American no matter what his background.

The 442nd Go For Broke Monument in Los Angeles, California

Decorations:

- 21 Medals of Honor (the first awarded posthumously to Private First Class Sadao Munemori, Company A, 100th Battalion, for action near Seravezza, Italy, on April 5, 1945; the others upgraded from other awards in June 2000).

- 52 Distinguished Service Crosses (including 19 Distinguished Service Crosses which were upgraded to Medals of Honor in June 2000)

- 1 Distinguished Service Medal

- 560 Silver Stars (plus 28 Oak Leaf Clusters for a second award)

- 22 Legion of Merit Medals

- 15 Soldier’s Medals

- 4,000 Bronze Stars (plus 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters for a second award; one Bronze Star was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in June 2000. One Bronze Star was upgraded to a Silver Star in September 2009.)

- 9,486 Purple Hearts

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~Dave W.
Associate Editor

Dave W. was a race car driver who decided that he didn’t want to waste the college fund on gas and tyres. He can be found listening to Arcade Fire while blasting away at the range. He is DVMs resident Liberal and Grammar Monkey.

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15 thoughts on “MILITARY: 442ND Infantry Regiment – Go For Broke”

  1. Great article! I gotta say I never knew of the 442nd or of any asian fighting units. They should make a movie about them. Im sure in the asian community these brave men are known, but In my community I probably would have never heard about them. Until now. Thanks again for the great history lesson.

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  2. Yup. ‘One-puka-puka’, with ‘puka’ being Hawaiian for hole. Hawaii is very proud of the 442nd/100th bat. For kids growing up here in Hawaii, it’s the Army unit to be in.

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  3. If anyone is ever near Death Valley in California look for the Manzanar Historic Site now run my the Nation Park Service (off highway 395). It has a great information center with tons of info on what we did to Japanese Americans during WWII.

    I learned things there like that Japanese who are been living in South America for years were taken into custody and transfered to internment camps in the USA. Japanese were taken from their homes all over the USA and kept in camps for years in some cases.

    When they were finally released they went back to their old homes only to find white people living IN THEIR HOMES.. and there wasn’t shit they could do. You learn alot about what we did that is rather upsetting.

    This is off topic from this artic a bit but I never really appreciated just how bad Japanese were treated until I stopped at Manzanar. If you have kids they need to go there and learn how fucked we treated people born in America of asian decent.

    I can’t write well enough to do the place justice. Go to this place and read the stories/exhibits. You will feel ashamed of what was allowed to occur to these people. For lack of a better term it was un-American.

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  4. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    ~James G

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  5. Zombiehunter – the movie about the 442 is called “Go For Broke.” It’s been around for awhile

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  6. ZombieHunter: 1961 Van Johnson “Go for Broke”.
    IMDB.com is your friend!
    Rich Johns

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  7. …never knew of the 442nd…They should make a movie about them…

    They have. “Go For Broke” is a Hollywood-ized, B&W, 1950′s version. It’s good though. Rent and enjoy.

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  8. I grew up in Hawaii and saying “go for broke” was as popular as saying Aloha. We used it as kids when you would dare a friend to do something crazy.
    Great article and you can watch videos and get other info here: http://www.goforbroke.org/default.asp

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  9. Thanks for the article, great history lesson, does anyone know exactly where the memorial is in Los Angeles? Is it in Little Tokyo?

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  10. Wow, I had no idea at all. A 314% casualty rate? That’s balls of steel right there man. They dont make men like that nowadays.

    Great article, great story, great men.

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  11. Aloha,
    a new movie just came out: 442 live with honor – Die with dignity
    there is also a very interesting book called US Samurais in Bruyeres
    available only at the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii in Honolulu.
    Mahalo,

    pierre

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  12. A man that I have known for several years surprised me today when he told me he was a member of the 442. “WOW” His name is Tomas is a member of VFW Post 3830. I knew about the 442 and he was surprised that I knew about the Men of the First Puka Puka. Tomas as 80 years old and I am 18 years is Junior but I was impressed. Jake, Vietman Combat Veteran 69-70.

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  13. puka puka means literally hole hole for the unit was the 100 so the first puka puka lol cool…

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  14. Great ! the battle of Bruyeres and the rescue of the lost battalion are considered one of the ten major battle in US History.
    They received on october 2010 the Congressional Gold Medal.
    For more info order “U.S. Samurais in Bruyeres” at http://www.hiarmymuseumsoc.org or to the author for autographed copy $65 at [email protected]
    Mahalo

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  15. Amazing on how dedicated my ancestors were for this country. My great-grandpa was apart of the 442nd infantry in hawaii. Doing a progect for it now relize how brave and strong my great grandpa was. May he rest in peace.papa lani ‘ae ‘oe Moe.

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