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'Go-for-Broke' Veterans Put It on the Line Once More

May 11, 1986|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

The most highly decorated Army unit in World War II is on another mission.

But rather than carrying bayonets and bullets, and rather than fighting in Europe, the soldiers are now using words as weapons and the new battlefield is the United States.

Many have forgotten that the most decorated Army unit was made up of Japanese-Americans. Those men, now in their 60s and 70s, are fighting to remind the world of their exploits, and to prevent their children and grandchildren from having to prove their loyalty to this country, as they had to do in the 1940s after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

"Our mission today is to get our story retold," said George Nishinaka, 62, president of the Veterans Assn. of the 100/442nd Regimental Combat Team. "We only have 10 or 15 more years left, and then none of us will be around anymore. The association won't be around, because we'll all be dead. We don't want our children and our grandchildren, or the rest of the world, to forget what we fought for.

"We are starting to see some negative things relative to Asians in this country," Nishinaka said, noting the imbalance of trade with Japan and a growing anti-Japanese sentiment, particularly among displaced auto workers. "There shouldn't be any of this nonsense going on. We want to make sure we didn't fight that war for nothing."

As part of that effort to retell their story and fight discrimination, members of the 100/442nd RCT will ride on old World War II vehicles Saturday in Torrance's 27th Annual Armed Forces Day Parade, the largest civilian-sponsored armed forces parade in the country.

Torrance Councilman George Nakano, a third-generation Japanese-American who spent time as a child in three different internment camps during the war, said he invited the veterans of the 100/442nd RCT to participate in the parade to remind the South Bay, where about 100 veterans of the 100/442nd RCT live, of the "tremendous contributions and sacrifices they made."

"I am proud of their accomplishments," said Nakano, Torrance's first councilman of Japanese descent.

"In a parade like this, the general public will be reminded that there was such a unit," said Young Kim, 68, of Gardena, a career military man of Korean descent who served as a captain in the 100/442nd RCT, and was a colonel when he retired from the service 14 years ago. "We could be role models, not just for the Japanese-Americans, but for all Asians."

The roots of the 100/442nd RCT began in 1942 shortly after Executive Order 9066 was issued forcing the relocation of more than 110,000 West Coast residents of Japanese descent to 10 detention camps scattered throughout the country. The war hysteria created a fear that the Japanese-Americans would be loyal to Japan, and rumors of espionage and sabotage were rampant.

About 3,500 Japanese-Americans already serving in the armed forces were disarmed and reassigned to menials jobs. Other Japanese-Americans, who had registered for the draft since 1940, were reclassified 4-C, unfit to join the Army.

Residents of Hawaii, about a third of whom were of Japanese descent and where no Japanese-Americans were incarcerated, complained and asked that a Japanese-American infantry unit be formed to prove their loyalty.

The unit was formed with about 1,300 men, and after training in Mississippi and Louisiana, the men were designated as the 100th Infantry Battalion.

Pleased with the success of the 100th Battalion, the Army in February, 1943, ordered the formation of a volunteer all-nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Americans, combat unit.

More than 3,000 men from Hawaii and more than 1,500 from the internment camps volunteered to form the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

"It was put-up-or-shut-up time," said Hiroshi Takusagawa, 63, of Gardena. Takusagawa was in an internment camp in Gila River, Ariz., when he volunteered.

"We had been saying that we were as American as anyone else and now we had to prove it."

Shipped to Oran

The 100th Infantry Battalion, meanwhile, was sent to Oran, North Africa. But when they got there they were assigned to guard supply trains running between Casablanca and Tunisia.

"Our battalion commander protested, saying that we didn't come all this way to guard a train. We came here to fight," recalled Young Kim.

A battalion assigned to Italy was reassigned and the 100th was quickly sent in to replace it. They joined the 34th Division and stormed the beaches of Salerno. The unit saw action in Montemarano, Volturno, Cassino and, finally, captured the beachhead at Anzio.

The 100th Battalion was then attached to the 442nd RCT in Italy as the first of three battalions on the team.

The first group in the 100/442nd RCT adopted a shoulder patch depicting an arm holding the torch of liberty. They also adopted the phrase "Go for Broke," used by gamblers when their entire stake rides on one bet, as their battle cry.

Seven Campaigns

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