WASHINGTON — Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) spoke on behalf of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on June 16 in commemoration of the U.S. Postal Service’s June 3 launch of the Go For Broke: Japanese Americans Soldiers of World War II stamp, which honors the perseverance and patriotism of Japanese Americans fighting to defend the nation during World War II. His full speech follows.
Madam Speaker, I rise today with my colleagues to recognize and honor … a stamp.
A stamp just issued by the U.S. Postal Service that, with stunning simplicity, remembers, recognizes and honors one of the most remarkable and inspirational stories in the whole of our country’s history.
A story of tragedy, perseverance and triumph that is so quintessentially American, that goes so deeply to our essence, that offers the most fundamental lessons that we must never forget.
And that is the point of this stamp: that we never forget the story of the Japanese American soldiers of World War Two and their famous motto, which is its own lesson: Go For Broke!
For many of us, the story is well known and has instructed and inspired our own lives. But for a growing number of our fellow citizens of our country and world it is not, and so permit me a brief retelling.
The story originates in Japan in the late 1800s when largely rural poverty and lack of opportunity drove emigration to the United States, mainly Hawaii and the West Coast, until the Exclusion Act of 1924 ended any substantial further immigration. This first generation, or Issei, were excluded by reason of their race and origin from citizenship, yet they worked and sacrificed and persevered to provide a better life for their children, the second generation, or Nisei, born American citizens.
As World War II loomed, Americans of Japanese ncestry were beginning their third generation, or Sansei, in substantial communities, yet they remained largely marginalized because of race. In my Hawaii, they constituted over one-third of our population, yet largely still labored on plantations or worked in small businesses. The same was true on the West Coast, from Washington through Oregon to San Diego.
Some Nisei saw war with Japan coming and sought to enlist in our armed services, but they were largely denied out of race and suspicion and sought to prove themselves through service in the guard or, in Hawaii, the Varsity Victory Volunteers.
Pearl Harbor changed everything. Infamously, over 100,000 Japanese were interned for their race, an indelible stain on our national fabric. And after years of Japanese Americans pushing to be allowed to prove their loyalty by enlisting and fighting, the military finally relented with the 100th Infantry Battalion (the One-Puka-Puka), the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (“Go For Broke”), the Military Intelligence Service and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion.
The rest, as they say, is legend. The 100th and 442nd, after enduring great discrimination and great kindness in mainland training camps where Jim Crow was still very much alive, and even as their parents and brothers and sisters were incarcerated by their government, shipped out and fought their way with the U.S. Army from Africa up through Sicily and Italy and the Rhone and into France and the famous Battles of the Vosges and the Bulge and then into German itself, where they liberated the concentration camps of the Third Reich.
When it was all over, they had lost so many comrades and had become the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in our nation’s history.
But it was not just for their wartime service that they are remembered, but their faith in and dedication to their country upon their return, itself marked even after all that by racism and discrimination. Many of them went on to careers in public service, like U.S. senator and Medal of Honor winner Daniel Inouye and U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga, and many more in other professions and careers and back in their communities where they quietly fought for the principle that the American dream belonged to all Americans.
What an American story, and for all this we honored them in 2010 with our Congressional Gold Medal. But was that enough; would it all be remembered?
Three Japanese American women in California who themselves had been incarcerated – Fusa Takahashi, Chiz Ohira and Aiko King – thought not, and in 2005 they launched Stamp Our Story to convince the U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp in honor and remembrance of the Japanese American soldiers of World War II. Sixteen long years later, through continued advocacy led in Congress by my Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and my colleagues here now and before – especially U.S. Congressman Mark Takai, himself a Japanese American veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, tragically lost to us – this beautiful and moving stamp, impeccably designed by Antonio Alcala, was issued just weeks ago.
The design is taken from a 1944 photograph in the field of 442nd Private First Class Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto, a Nisei born and raise in the plantation village of Ninole on the Hamakua Coast of my home island of Hawaii. His service included the famous rescue of the Texas Lost Battalion in the Vosges, when the 442nd’s casualties far exceeded the number of their mostly white comrades rescued. Legend has it that the motto “Go For Broke” – or in our pidgin, go fo’ broke – originated in Hawaii gambling slang for going big against all odds. The soldier’s face speaks of fatigue, of questions, but above all of **gaman,** of perseverance through great adversity to a better place.
Such a fitting tribute, so appropriate. And made possible by so many, including colleagues who are here with me today to contribute their own thoughts.
I now yield five minutes to Congressman Mark Takano, the second vice chair of CAPAC and chair of the House Veterans Committee, who also fought long and hard for this stamp.
I now yield five minutes to Congressman Kaiali’i Kahele, my colleague from Hawaii and CAPAC’s freshman representative, himself a passionate advocate for our Asian Pacific American community.
Madam Speaker, we are all grateful for the opportunity to remember and retell the American story of the Japanese American soldiers of World War II and to celebrate the lessons of their service and lives through their stamp.
To close, I’d like to recite the 442nd’s special song:
Four Forty Second Infantry
We are the boys of Hawai‘i nei
We will fight for you
And the red, white and blue
And will go to the front
And back to Honolulu-lu-lu
Fighting for dear old Uncle Sam
Go for broke we don’t give a damn!
We will round up the huns
At the point of a gun
And the victory will be ours!
Go for broke! Four Four Two!
Go for broke! Four Four Two!
And victory will be ours.
Mahalo, and I yield back.