Earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service released its newest commemorative stamp, the “Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers of WWII” stamp. This forever stamp honors the little-known contributions of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (the Nisei) who served courageously during World War II.
With the frightening increase in violent attacks on Asian Americans, learning about the patriotism and heroic military history of these Japanese American soldiers during World War II is critical. It teaches us that people of color have contributed to the preservation of freedom and democracy throughout the history of America, often with their lives.
Ceremonies celebrating this forever stamp will be or have been held across the nation. Oregon will hold its ceremony on Monday, June 14, at 5:30 p.m. at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. Due to COVID safety precautions restricting large public gatherings, the public is invited to attend virtually (vimeo.com/543729988). It will also be posted on the website, www.StampOurStory.org.
Who were these soldiers and what is the meaning of the motto “Go For Broke”? They were Nisei, American citizens born in the United States to immigrants (Issei) from Japan. “Go For Broke” characterized their teamwork, spirit and courage. The face of a soldier and the motto of these troops is etched on the stamp. These soldiers served in combat in Europe, as linguists in the Pacific Theatre and in the post-war occupation of Japan. They numbered just 33,000 men and women but suffered huge casualties. They include one of the most decorated military units in history, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts and 21 Medals of Honor.
While these Nisei soldiers were fighting and dying for their country, America, their grandparents, parents, spouses, children and relatives were incarcerated in American concentration camps. Solely because of their Japanese heritage, over 120,000 Japanese American citizens and others of Japanese ancestry were deemed enemies of the U.S., were ordered to leave almost everything they owned, and were imprisoned in camps surrounded by barbed wire. Four thousand Oregonians were forced to leave their homes, businesses and farms and live in one of ten American concentration camps. The loyalty of these soldiers and their families is indisputable. For more information, see www.StampOurStory.org.
In 2005 the “Stamp Our Story” campaign for the “Go For Broke” stamp was launched by three Nisei women in California to honor these soldiers. Support in Oregon has been ongoing since the beginning of the campaign.
According to Doug Katagiri, son of linguist George Katagiri, veteran of the Military Intelligence Service: “This unique commemoration recognizes and reminds us of the legacy achieved by Nisei veterans of WWII. It’s impossible to overstate their sacrifices in building this legacy, fighting a war abroad while enduring racism and an extraordinary episode of national injustice at home.”
Oregonians across the state are invited to join the celebration (virtually at vimeo.com/543729988) to learn about these patriotic Japanese American soldiers and their families. For Oregonians of Japanese ancestry, it will be a long-awaited opportunity to celebrate the contributions of the “Go For Broke” Nisei soldiers and their ancestors.
The program will feature honorary chair and former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and four generations of Nisei veterans’ descendants. Three vignettes by Asian American actors will portray stories of military service: David Loftus reading an excerpt from Harold Okimoto’s diary, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion; Alton Chung presenting former Congressman Al Ullman’s tribute to Frank Hachiya, Military Intelligence Service; and Ken Yoshikawa reading a letter to the HIllsboro Argus by Art Iwasaki, 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Kulongoski lauded the Nisei veterans in this way: “Our Japanese American World War II veterans fought for democracy while their own families were incarcerated in concentration camps on American soil. They believed in America. We salute them. And we will not forget.”
Sponsors and supporters of the event include the Oregon Nisei Veterans, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, the Oregon Historical Society, the Portland Japanese American Citizens’ League and the Mary Yamaguchi Foundation at the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington.