By John Sammon
It is quite a paradox that the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the most famous U.S. Army units of World War II, is known by so few, and even those who have heard of it know even less about its origins—-until now.
A landmark film readying for world premier explores the creation of the 442nd by young Japanese American university students in Hawaii determined to prove their loyalty to the United States by fighting for it, and to disprove the racial bigotry imprisoning thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry on the U.S. Mainland.
“What makes it a bitter-sweet experience for me,” said Stacey Hayashi, writer, director, producer of the 92-minute documentary ‘Go for Broke,’ is that many of my veteran friends who I interviewed for the film didn’t live to see its completion. Many of them have died.”
One is the late U.S. Senator from Hawaii Daniel Inouye, who lost an arm in combat and won the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor. Inouye passed away in 2012.
Hayashi spent 17 years working on the film. She said at times she doubted it would ever be completed.
“There are times when it becomes the bane of your existence,” she said.
In mid-October she was in Las Vegas showing clips of the film and a screening is set for Oct. 30 to take place at the Capitol Mall in Washington D.C.
The World Premier of “Go for Broke” will take place on Nov. 12 during the Hawaii International Film Festival to be held at the Hawaii Theater, a historic Vaudeville and cinema theater located at 1130 Bethel St. in Honolulu.
The genesis of the film started out as a nonfiction comic book to explain the origins of the 442nd titled “Journey of Heroes, the Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.” The comic book was then turned into a short film visible today on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgHT2d_jw4s).
“I had always wanted to do a feature film, but the comic book was easier and that’s how is started,” Hayashi said. “We put the comic book out. Book signings were held in France and Italy and the town in France where the 442nd rescued the Texas Lost Battalion during World War II, Brusyeres.”
Brusyeres, a town in Eastern France, was liberated from Nazi German occupation during World War II by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The unit composed of Japanese American volunteers rescued the Lost Texas Battalion whose troops comprised the 1st Battalion, 141st and 36th Infantry Divisions.
The Lost Battalion was given its name because surrounded and cut off by German troops it faced annihilation. Instead the 442nd came to the rescue of their Anglo comrades and suffered heavy casualties in the process.
The incident became one of the most storied and famous acts of heroism in U.S. military history and is considered today one of the 10 major battles of the European war. This and other actions gave the 442nd an aura of toughness; the unit became renowned for being able to do the impossible.
As a result the 442nd was often assigned the most difficult, dangerous and dirty assignments of the war, always with heavy casualties. The unit’s moto immortalized as “Go for Broke” became as famous as the men and the 442nd went on to become one of the most decorated infantry regiments of the U.S. Army during World War II.
Hayashi said grant money had been earmarked by the state of Hawaii to make a major film on the subject but the governor at that time (2002-2012) Linda Lingle wouldn’t release the funding.
“The governor sat on the grant and let it lapse,” Hayashi said. “I was disappointed.”
During funeral services for Inouye held in Punchbowl Cemetery (2012) near Honolulu, Hayashi again raised the issue of the need for the film with government leaders in attendance. Told to keep fighting for the project and not give up she gathered new and additional support among legislators.
Hayashi credited David Ige, Hawaii’s current governor, for approving new grant funding through the State Legislative Ways and Means Committee and the backing of Mark Takai, a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and later a U.S. Congressman, for championing the film project so it could proceed.
“He (Takai) was so important I decided to dedicate the film to him,” Hayashi added.
Additional funding was provided by private donations.
“It was heart-warming to see people come out in force to contribute to the film,” Hayashi said. “The U.S. Army allowed us to film at Schofield Barracks (Hawaii U.S. Army base), and that’s rare. Hardly anyone ever gets to film there.”
Original music for the film was written by Jake Shimabukuro.
Hayashi said the film portrays the “fight to fight” struggle of Japanese Americans to be allowed to enter World War II as combat soldiers.
“Without the original 100 volunteers there would be no 442nd,” she said.
The original volunteers of the 442nd consisted of Manoa ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) students who had been attending the University of Hawaii when the war broke out. ROTC is a college-based officer training program in which college students pursue education while training to later serve their country on active duty in the U.S. military.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese American students at the university (the 100) were mobilized and for a time guarded military installations at Schofield Barracks. However they were removed from their duty because of their Japanese ancestry and branded potential “enemy aliens.”
The students were determined to serve their country and decided to form a labor battalion to assist the war effort. They adopted the title “Varsity Victory Volunteers” (VVV) and performed menial jobs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, building and improving roads on Hawaii, laying barbed wire and working in a rock quarry.
In January of 1943 the War Dept. announced it would form a Nisei Regiment (442nd) composed of Japanese American volunteers and called for recruits. VVV members were the first to join. Approximately 10,000 Japanese Americans in Hawaii would come forward to serve in the unit.
One of the very first to join the 442nd was Akira Otani.
Otani, 20 years old and one of the original 100 volunteers, saw Pearl Harbor bombed while he was in the act of opening a fish market he ran with his family. By the time he got home agents of the FBI were already arresting his father Matsujiro Otani, an influential and respected business leader in the community.
Otani served with gallantry in combat in Europe and returned to the U.S. a Second Lieutenant at the end of the war.
Hayashi said she hopes people who view the film will come to understand the heroism and sacrifice of the Japanese American volunteers who became the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
“We especially would like to get the film into schools so young people can learn about it,” she said.
Hayashi added the nearly three-decade struggle to get the film completed has been worth the effort.
“It’s been a passion project of mine,” she said.
People wishing to see a trailer clip about the movie may view it at www.goforbrokemovie.com
Top photo: Stan Lee (center right), creator of Spiderman, Xmen, and other Marvel characters, Stacey Hayashi (center left), on Hayashi’s right is Reenactor Anthony Sagun (holding Chibi Goro with Ukulele). On Stan’s left is Ricky Paras Medic for the 100th Battalion 442nd Regiment (holding Chibi Eddie Yamasaki).