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Going for Broke

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Going for Broke
Japanese American Soldiers in the War Against Nazi Germany. By James M. McCaffrey. Volume 36 in the Campaigns & Commanders Series. (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2013. Pg. 408. 15 B & W Photographs, 3 Maps.) ISBN: 978-0-8061-4337-8.

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - May 1, 2013

Can you imagine if the government came into your community and arrested every single member of a specific racial or ethnic group? After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941, this became a reality for more than 100,000 Japanese Americans. For the simple crime of being ethnically Japanese, these Americans - many second or third generation Americans - were sent to relocation centers, a euphemism for austere internment camps. Can you image if your wife, your children, your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, your relatives, possibly every member of your family was forced to live in an internment camp and the people who were running the 'camp' came to you and said, "Please join the army and help us win the war." What would your answer be?

For countless Japanese American men, the answer was "Yes!" Despite the treatment that they had received at the hands of their own government, more than 30,000 Japanese American men volunteered to join the military, serving with distinction in the Army, the Army Air Force, the Military Intelligence Service, and in many more areas. In Going for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers in the War Against Nazi Germany, James M. McCaffrey chronicles the deeds of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This team was manned by an all Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) force.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor the military separated out all the Japanese Americans serving in the Hawaiian National Guard, and from the activity duty military personal on the island, and formed the 100th Infantry Battalion. This unit was quickly shipped to the mainland for 'more training'. In 1943 the military decided to form an active duty combat unit of Nisei soldiers. This was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The unit consisted of men drawn out of the 100th Infantry Battalion, new volunteers, many coming directly from interment camps, as well as some men who were drafted directly from internment camps. The 100th Infantry Battalion was eventually absorbed by 442nd, and as a combined group, they were destined to see action fighting against the Nazis in France, Italy, and Germany. In addition, the 442nd was on hand to liberate thousands of Jews from a concentration camp, while many men still had family members languishing in American internment camps. By wars end, the 442nd, whose motto was "Go for Broke" and whose men were willing to die to prove their loyalty, emerged as a highly decorated and respected unit.

In recounting the story of the 442nd, McCaffrey has interwoven the reminiscences and writings of countless men who served in the unit, along with historic details about their deeds and the sacrifices that they made. Along the way, McCaffrey explores the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the hostility that the men faced both in and out of the military. He also examines the differences in the circumstances and attitudes between the Hawaiian Nisei and the Nisei from the mainland, and how the two groups had to learn to work together to from a cohesive unit. Most important, McCaffrey fully details the exploits of this unit during the war, and shows why it became one of the most highly decorated units of its size. Almost 10,000 of these decorations were for purple hearts, from a unit that only had about 14,000 men! It is not surprising that their nickname was the "Purple Heart Battalion."

After reading this book, there is no questioning the heroism and patriotism of the Nisei soldiers who gave their all to help defend the United States. Part social history and part military history, Going for Broke sheds light on an often overlooked aspect of American history - the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the thousands of men who stepped forward to serve a country that was not as deserving as it should have been. Text includes extensive notes and an up-to-date bibliography that will greatly aid anyone seeking to explore this subject in greater detail. Going for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers in the War Against Nazi Germany will make a great addition in all public and private libraries.

Related Reviews:

Placing Memory: A Photographic Exploration of Japanese American Internment, photographs by Todd Stewart.
This book contains a mix of modern and vintage photographs that document the ten internment camps located in the American West, in which Japanese-American's were interned during World War II.

Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in World War II, by Robert E. Humphrey.
Based on interviews with hundreds of veterans, this is a gripping narrative history of the 99th Infantry Division's exploits during the Battle of the Bulge and during the push into Germany toward the end of World War II.

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