“Go for broke!”
In our elementary school days, my friends and I often shouted that phrase on the playground, having no idea that it was, truly, a battle cry. We knew nothing of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team or the 100th Infantry Battalion, nor were we aware that the phrase was originally coined by Hawaii gamblers ready to risk everything on one roll of the dice. It was just something we said to cheer each other on, or to bolster our own self-confidence.
Considering its craps game origin, one might interpret the phrase as an encouragement of recklessness or foolhardy abandon. For us, though, it was more a declaration of commitment and determination. The men of the 442nd chose “Go for Broke!” as their motto for the same reasons we kids used it: It was a rallying cry and an exhortation to give it your all, regardless of the odds.
Monday was National Go for Broke Day, honoring the nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) soldiers of World War II. The date of the annual commemoration was chosen in honor of the 442nd’s first Medal of Honor recipient, Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori. On April 5, 1945, near Seravezza, Italy, Munemori’s unit was pinned down by enemy gunfire. With the regular leader wounded, command of the squad fell to Munemori. Charging through direct fire, he single-handedly knocked out two machine guns with grenades; then, after an enemy grenade bounced off his helmet and rolled toward a shell crater occupied by two of his men, he dove onto the missile, sacrificing himself to save his comrades. As his Medal of Honor certificate reads, “By his swift, supremely heroic action, Pfc. Munemori saved two of his men at the cost of his own life and did much to clear the path for his company’s victorious advance.”
Soon, in addition to this annual day of honor, the humble motto will receive “forever” recognition. On June 3, the U.S. Postal Service will officially unveil the new commemorative “Go for Broke Soldiers” forever stamp. To mark the occasion in Hawaii, a special event is being planned for June 4 by a consortium of Honolulu organizations. Maui’s Nisei Veterans Memorial Center will livestream the ceremonies on its Facebook page.
The issuance of the stamp, which features a photograph of a single nisei soldier, Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto from Hawaii island, is the culmination of more than 15 years of effort by the “Stamp Our Story” initiative. Launched in 2005 by three nisei women who had been incarcerated in U.S. detention camps during WWII, Stamp Our Story worked relentlessly to gather support from communities and politicians nationwide as well as French citizens and government officials who continue to honor the nisei forces that liberated their towns from German occupancy. This was the vision of founders Fusa Takahashi (now 93), Aiko O. King (also 93), and the late Chiz Ohira: that the stamp bring people and organizations together to honor the accomplishments and the legacy of the Go for Broke soldiers.
Deeper insight into the Go for Broke spirit may be found on the NVMC YouTube channel, particularly the talks by Gen. David Bramlett, retired commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. With battlefield photos, official documents, poignant anecdotes and a personal mission to keep these stories alive, Bramlett delivers inspiring, eye-opening presentations.
The NVMC education center is also open for tours, limited to five visitors at a time and by appointment only. The current display, “WWII: Maui Remembers,” features plantation-era artifacts and mementos of civilian life in the 1940s along with exhibits focused on Maui’s nisei soldiers. To schedule a visit, call 244-6862 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.