If you eat lunch outside the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo, look for the large granite arch, with a flagpole in front of it. It's the "Go For Broke" monument, commemorating Japanese-Americans who served in World War II despite being detained as suspected traitors in internment camps by President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066.
Saturday, June 6 marked the 71st anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, and the Go For Broke National Education Foundation held a ceremony honoring the Veterans of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, its 100th Battalion and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).
"Go For Broke" was the mantra of the 442nd during WWII. Veteran Yoshio Nakamura remembers breaking the Gothic Line. "We climbed up this tremendous mountain in the dark, and surprised the German outpost on the high ground, and that ended the war in Italy."
(Yoshio Nakamura, of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Courtesy of the Nakamura Family)
In 2000, President Clinton awarded the 442nd Regiment 20 Medals of Honor, a total of 21 for the unit. Tokuji "Toke" Yoshihashi, from the 442nd's 100th Battalion, recalled the regiment's first Medal of Honor recipient, Sadao Munemori. "He was in A Company, which I was, and I was there when he (posthumously) got his medal. He threw himself on a German grenade to save his two buddies, but he lost his life doing it," says Yoshihashi.
Munemori led his squad through German fire in Seravezza, Italy after his leader was injured. He took out two German machine guns and gained ground for his squad before sacrificing himself.
("Toke" Yoshihashi. Courtesy of the Yoshihashi Family)
The Military Intelligence Service was comprised of two branches: a Pacific branch of translators interrogating and dispersing propaganda in Japanese, Thai and other Southeast Asian languages, and a European branch that did so in German. Ken Akune and his brother Harry were approached in Colorado's Amache internment camp by military recruiters seeking Japanese speakers. The Akunes volunteered themselves, and 19-year-old Ken was placed into MIS as an interrogator. Twenty-one-year-old Harry was a paratrooper who served in the Philippines and New Guinea.
(Camp Amache, where Ken and Harry Akune were interned, in Granada, Colorado. Credit: J Curnow/Flickr Creative Commons)
Akune recalls mostly decent treatment in the military, except for one executive officer from the Office of War Information. The executive made sure Akune was without food or transportation when he was sent to interrogations. The tension between the two came to an impasse when Akune was told to give up his seat for a British guest at a military dinner, and when he wouldn't move, the executive ordered him to move. "The hell you will! I'm in the military, you're a civilian!" Akune responded. The chief of MIS didn't punish Akune, who was the first of many harassed interpreters to stand up to the War Information executive.
(Courtesy of the Akune Family)
Both Akune and Yoshihashi had family in the Japanese military. Akune had two younger brothers who lived with his grandmother in Japan and joined near the end of the war. One of Akune's brothers was drafted as a kamikaze (though he did not have to take a suicide mission). Yoshihashi had cousins and uncles fighting for Japan, one of whom was a four-star general. Yoshihashi, who was interned at Arizona's Gila-River camp, remarks that while his father's generation was "gung-ho for Japan," he was an American, and "couldn't see their point."
"We were told to report in Pasadena, and they could not tell us where we were gonna go. It turned out we were at the Tulare Racetrack, which was made into an camp. One of my friends who came to visit me was appalled by the prison-like situation there, and where we talked in the visitors room, we had to talk through bars, like in a jail, and it so affected him that he could not talk about it for 30 years." —Yoshio Nakamura recalling his internment
On the same block as the Go For Broke monument and the Japanese American National Museum, is the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. This was a deportation site for the internment camps, but during the war, monks kept internees' possessions safe in the basement of the temple. GFB President Don Nose says it will be the new Go For Broke Education Center to teach students about civil rights history and current events.