While the 100th Battalion was deployed in Italy, the men of the 442nd remained in the U.S. to complete training. Their adopted motto was “Go for Broke” and in later years they have been popularly known in the islands by that designation.
The two forces were reunied in Civitavecchia north of Rome on 11 June 1944. The 100th was placed under the command of the 442nd on 15 June 1944 and on 14 August 1944, the 100th Battalion was officially assigned to the 442nd as its 1st battalion. In recognition of the One Puka Puka’s outstanding fighting record, they were allowed to keep the unit designation. The 100th Battalion’s high casualty rate at Anzio and Monte Cassino earned it the unofficial nickname “Purple Heart Battalion.”
The 442nd, with the 100th Battalion now absorbed into its command went on to fight with great distinction in the Italian campaign and, at the close of that action, were transfered to the French theater. It was at the Battle of the Bulge that the most famous of the combat actions of the 442nd took place – the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.” The following is an article written by Burt Masao Takeuchi in which he interviewed surviving members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and those they rescued as they were sent into an incredibly intense and dangerous mission to rescue another U.S. Army regiment that was trapped by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.
Bravery Comes in Many Colors
In late October 1944, a battalion (141st Infantry Regiment) from the 36th Texas Division was surrounded by the German army. Battles were fought in the densely wooded Vosges mountains located in Northern France near the German border. The Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team (about 3,000 men) was ordered to rescue the Lost Battalion by General Clayton Dahlquist (commander of the 36th Division). The German army had orders from Adolf Hitler to defend the Vosges at all costs. The rescue mission would be one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the US Army.
1st Lt. Robert Foote led an infantry platoon in K Company 442nd. Generally all officers attached to the 442nd were White but the NCO’s were all Nisei’s (second generation Japanese American). “I always felt safe as long as I had one live Nisei soldier left in my company. They would take care of me” said Foote. He “was taken out of action early” in the battle when his platoon attempted to race across some railroad tracks outside the town of Bruyeres. Foote was “blown into the air by a German mortar shell” that literally “landed in his hip pocket.” Foote was severely wounded and had to be evacuated to a hospital. “Into the valley of death…..” commented Foote.
Lt. Marty Higgins, a former “horse soldier” (cavalry), was in command of the Lost Battalion. Higgins formed a strong defensive position on a hill and dug in. Some 50 volunteers attempted to fight their way back to the American lines. They were ambushed and only 5 men returned. Higgins initially wanted to fight his way out of the trap but ruled against it because they didn’t want to leave their wounded behind. Although surrounded, morale was high. Meanwhile food, medicine, ammunition and time was running out.
Lt. Susumu Ito was a forward observer with the 442nd’s field artillery battalion (522nd FAB). Ito’s duties were to direct artillery fire from the batteries of 105 mm howitzers to support the 442nd infantry assaults up the rolling hills. Prior to the battle, Ito received a battlefield commission to Lieutenant. It was rare for Nisei to be promoted to officer status during WW2 for his role in the Italian Campaign.
Sgt. Wally Nunotani had volunteered for the 442nd from Hawaii. Sgt. Nunotani was a section chief in the Cannon Company. The small company was very close to the fighting. Sometimes”we didn’t want to shoot. We could hit our own guys.” Nunotani saw an Me109 German fighter plane “hedge hopping over the lines”. During the cold rainy nights, the Nisei soldiers slept in foxholes. It was “cold especially for Nisei who came from warm places.” “Water would accumulate in foxholes” so “guys would make roofs [over them].” The roofs would also protect the soldiers from “tree bursts” where artillery shells would hit the trees showering the ground with thousands of splinters and shrapnel. These roofs would “protect us from this type of attack.”
Shig Doi from I Company was heavily involved in the fighting to rescue the Lost Battalion. The Germans had machine gun nests in camouflaged positions so “they had to be pinpointed first. You had to work yourself forward [toward them] then use a hand grenade [to knock them out]. If you fired your weapon, “you can expose yourself” to enemy fire. If you fired too soon, “it’s like saying ‘Here I am.”‘ When fighting in a dense forest, “everybody looks for [spare or extra] Tommy Guns” (Thompson sub machine gun). A “handy, close fighting weapon” with “lots of knockout power” from its heavy 45 caliber slugs.
The fighting was from tree to tree and ridge to ridge. The 442nd fought for yards at a time through dense woods shrouded with fog and rain. On October 30th, 1944 the 442nd broke through the German lines rescuing the Lost Battalion after storming up Banzai Hill. “We took a lot of losses” said Doi. A German sniper shot a Nisei soldier right in front of him. His friend moving near him was struck in the head and seriously wounded. The sniper “could have picked me off at the same place.” Sometimes he wonders “How come I survived,” commented Doi.
The Meaning of ‘Courage Under Fire’
After the attack, Companies K, L, and I were down to less than 20 men standing each, out of 200 at full strength. Only a handful of Nisei’s that were still able to walk made contact with the Lost Battalion. “I did not witness the first contact that was made by our riflemen but I did see several of the 36th Division fellows crawling out of their deep foxholes and with their bearded, bewildered look greet us with delight and relief,” noted Ito. “Saying we were thrilled is an understatement,” commented Higgins.
Shig Doi, 442nd RCT
Robert Foote, 442nd RCT
Marty Higgins, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Division
Susumu Ito, 522nd FAB, 442nd RCT
Wally Nunotani, Cannon Company 442nd RCT
George Oiye, 522nd FAB, 442nd RCT
Rudy Tokiwa, 442nd RCT
National Japanese American Historical Society
Japanese American Resource Center
Andy Ono, 442nd RCT Historian
“Honor Bound” video documentary by Wendy Hanamura (KPIX, SF)
“Most Decorated” video documentary by The History Channel
At the end of the battle, General Dahlquist asked the 442nd to pass in review. He asked where are all the men? “Sorry sir… this is all we have left” replied a teary-eyed officer. After days of near constant fighting the 442nd had suffered roughly 1,000 casualties. 200 soldiers were killed in action (or missing) with over 800 seriously wounded. Nunotani was not clear on why the 442nd was sent in to rescue the Lost Battalion. “There were other regiments that could have been used.” Sometimes war is “like being on a football team. You go with the best and hope for the best,” stated Nunotani. For its heroic action in the Vosges, the 442nd received five Presidential Unit Citations.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in US military history. Roughtly 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts and the unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations – 5 earned in a single month in the above cited action. Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor, 19 in 2000 as upgrades to other awards, in recognition that, due to the prejudices of the time, they had not been properly recognized. In all, members of the 442nd received 18,143 awards, including:
21 Medals of Honor (the first awarded posthumously to Private First Class Sadao Munemori, Company A, 100th Battalion, for action near Seravezza, Italy, on 5 April 1945; 19 upgraded from other awards in June 2000.
Barney F. Hajiro
Daniel K. Inouye
Robert T. Kuroda
Kiyoshi K. Muranaga
William K. Nakamura
Joe M. Nishimoto
Allan M. Ohata
James K. Okubo
Frank H. Ono
George T. Sakato
Ted T. Tanouye
52 Distinguished Service Cross (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
On 5 October 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and Nisei serving in the Military Intelligence Service.
The few remaining members of the 442nd are revered in Hawaii and there is a traveling exhibit which was shown at my local credit union that spured my interest in the story of these incredible men:
Go For Broke Exhibit showing in Kona
August 18, 2014
Kona residents will have the opportunity to view a famous exhibit titled, “Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts” which is currently making a tour of the State. The exhibit chronicles the history of Japanese American soldiers from the famous 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and lesser known Military Intelligence Service (MIS) who served during World War II. It will be showing at the John Y. Iwane Credit Union Center Training Room of Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union’s Kaloko Facility from August 18 to September 12, 2014. The HCFCU is located at 73-5611 Olowalu St, Kailua-Kona. Visiting hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays. The exhibit will be closed on Sundays. Admission is free.
Dean Uemura, HCFCU Executive Vice President-Support Services, “The Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union is very proud to be hosting the Go For Broke Exhibit and helping to make it available to the people of the Kona Community. Our credit union was formed in part by several returning veterans of World War II and has served the Kona community for many years, so we are pleased to help to bring this important exhibit here for the first time.” An opening ceremony will take place on Monday, August 18, at 10:00 a.m. to open the display for public viewing.
The Go For Broke exhibit was originally created in the early 1980s through the efforts of more than 100 Nisei veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. The exhibit was originally shown at the Presidio Army base in San Francisco and toured throughout the United States for nearly 10 years. It formed the basis for other exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York. Most recently, the Go For Broke exhibit was featured at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.