Go For Broke

Toro Hirose of the 442nd RCT.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), composed of 8,500 Japanese-Americans, was one of the U.S. Army's most decorated infantry regiments of World War II. Their regimental motto, "Go for Broke" embodied the lan of the 442nd's men and their willingness to go beyond the call of duty for their county, even while many 442nd soldiers had relatives in U.S. internment camps.*  While the 442nd RTC earned their place in history by fighting in the rugged mountains of Italy and France, few people realize that the Anti-Tank Company of the 442nd arrived in Southern France via glider. The following narrative is based on my interview with Toro Hirosi, a member of the Anti-Tank company of the 442.
"After being in combat with the 442nd several weeks we were given orders to withdraw from the front and move to a rear area near Rome. At the time we didn't know why were being moved off the front line. Once we arrived at an airfield outside of Rome, we were told that we were brought there for glider training. We went through quite a bit of PT and also had a chance to play several games of baseball which I enjoyed. After about two weeks, we started glider training and were attached to the 517th RCT. We spent many hours loading and lashing down jeeps, British 6 Pound anti-tank guns, and jeep trailers which contained ammunition for the anti-tank guns inside the gliders. We were constantly reminded that if we didn't tie the equipment down properly, it could break free and put our lives in peril. A jeep or anti-tank gun that managed to break free could rip through the nose of the glider, killing everyone in its path.
"During our training, we were broken down into teams. Each team had one 6 Pound anti-tank gun a jeep and a jeep a with a trailer. The day before the invasion of Southern France we moved to an airfield. The CO of our unit called us together and said, "This it." Headquarters had a very detailed map of the drop zone, unfortunately for security purposes the map was limited, so we couldn't determine the country we were landing in. It wasn't until the day of the flight that we learned we were heading for Southern France. The plan was to follow the paratroopers, who would secure the landing field for the gliders."

"As we boarded the gliders several paratroopers from the 517th accompanied us since for whatever reason didn't make the parachute jump that commenced hours before we started our departure. At 1600 hours I was in the first of 44 gliders to take off. As we were leaving the runway the tow rope attached to our C-47 broke loose. In order to make the make the mission, we had to load our equipment into another glider, making us one of the last gliders to leave the runway."

"The flight across the Ligurian Sea was uneventful and I landed near a cornfield outside LeMuy. The landing was rough and many of our gliders hit trees and broke up during the landing. Around the glider landing area, I also noticed wooden poles with artillery shells attached that the Germans planted to smash our gliders upon landing."

"After successfully landing, we unloaded the gliders and set out for our objective. I was part of a recon platoon, and our objective was to scout out the roads that could be used as possible tank approaches to the glider landing field. Using Arial photographs that we were supplied prior to the operation, we drove down the roads that were deemed tank approaches. Luckily, my group didn't encounter any opposition. After searching the area, I reported back to base and received orders to bring our guns forward. We set up the guns in an area that had a fork in the road, anticipating an enemy counter-attack at any moment. The German's never counter-attacked my position that day."

After proving anti-tank support to the 517th as they fought their way to the French Maritime Alps, the Anti-Tank company returned to the 442nd RCT on October 20th.

Notes:  Perhaps the most moving aspect of our interview was what Toro and many of his fellow Japanese-American soldiers had to endure before their service in the 442nd. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hirose joined the Army as a volunteer. Once news of Pearl Harbor hit the West Coast camp that Toro and fellow Japanese-American soldiers were training at, the Army took away their rifles and relegated the men into service positions, such as being grounds keepers, waiters, and cooks. The men were moved further inland to Fort Riley, Kansas where they supposedly posed less of a threat to national security specifically, an invasion of the West Coast by the Japanese.

Once at Fort Riley, Toro and his fellow Nisei performed menial tasks; Toro related one story to me that they had to cut the lawn at Fort Riley in 110 degree weather. To make matters worse, many men had families who were shipped off to U.S. internment camps. In Mr. Hirose's case, his entire family was relocated to camps and in the process, they lost most of their personal belongings. I asked him about the mood of the men prior to volunteering for 442nd , even with all that was going on, he said the men's moral still remained high. I was puzzle, and said to him that if I was subjected to similar circumstances I would be very bitter.  He responded that the men weren't bitter and once they were given a chance to volunteer to fight overseas in the 442nd nearly everyone enthusiastically joined since they wanted to prove they cared about the country and had something to contribute. The 442nd's record speaks for itself.

Written by Patrick O'Donnell.

Sources:

Personal interview with Toro Hirose by Patrick O'Donnell.

Bridge of Love by John Tskano: Our source regarding the strength of the 442nd (8,500)