April 5th: “Go for Broke” Day — Honoring the Japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team

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April 5 is national “Go For Broke” Day, derived from the motto of the most decorated unit in U.S. military history, the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

It is the day that we recall and honor the Japanese Americans who fought in World War Two while their families were held in American internment camps.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team represents both the very best and the worst in American history.

The 442nd RCT was a segregated World War Two unit made up entirely of Americans of Japanese ancestry, which was a big deal since they were barred from military service at the start of the war due to fears stemming from the Pearl Harbor attack. Japanese Americans, known as Nisei, couldn’t enlist in the armed forces, and hundreds of thousands of them were forced from their homes into internment camps out of distrust and racial bigotry.

But many Nisei wanted to serve America. They were eventually able to do so through the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service, and the 442nd RCT — which became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history

The 442nd RCT was activated Feb. 1, 1943, and was composed of Nisei men who had volunteered from Hawaii and internment camps on the mainland.

The regiment fought primarily in Europe, in particular in Italy, France, and Germany.

In their two years of service, the members of the 442nd RCT earned:

7 Presidential Unit Citations
2 Meritorious Service Plaques
36 Army Commendation Medals
87 Division Commendations

Individual soldiers were awarded 18,000 decorations, including:

21 Medals of Honor
29 Distinguished Service Crosses
560 Silver Stars
4,000 Bronze Stars
22 Legion of Merit medals
15 Soldier’s Medals
Nearly 9,500 Purple Hearts

Meeting members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Sacramento in November 2013.

The unit lost 650 men, more than 3,700 were wounded in action, and 67 were declared missing in action.

April 5th is “Go for Broke” Day because on that day in 1945 the 442nd RCT’s first Medal of Honor recipient, Pfc. Sadao Munemori, was killed in action near Seravezza, Italy.  His Medal of Honor citation reads:

“He fought with great gallantry and intrepidity near Seravezza, Italy. When his unit was pinned down by grazing fire from the enemy’s strong mountain defense and command of the squad devolved on him with the wounding of its regular leader, he made frontal, one-man attacks through direct fire and knocked out two machine guns with grenades. Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades from other enemy emplacements, he had nearly reached a shell crater occupied by two of his men when an unexploded grenade bounced on his helmet and rolled toward his helpless comrades. He arose into the withering fire, dived for the missile and smothered its blast with his body. 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.”

When Pfc. Munemori performed his heroic deeds, his parents and siblings were incarcerated at Manzanar.

A few years ago, I had the honor of meeting several surviving members of the 442nd at an event in Sacramento hosted by then-Assemblymember Ted Lieu.

It is something I will never forget.

Thank you for your service.