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My Turn

by Dmae Lo Roberts

Image courtesy of the United States Postal Service

From The Asian Reporter, V31, #6 (June 7, 2021), page 6.

"Go For Broke" soldier on a forever stamp

As someone who still loves receiving correspondence through the mail, I look forward to sending letters with a new, historic commemorative forever stamp. Commemorative stamps hold a memory of the past and are a way to honor the history in a very personal way. A stamp can mean more than just a picture. It reveals a story of something long ago — one you want to remember.

Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto, the only son of immigrant parents, was a teenager when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Shiroku lived in Hawai‘i with his father, who grew sugar cane on about five acres of land. Unfortunately, his mom left the family when he was three months old; his father raised his son until he was 17 years old, but became ill and passed away in 1941. The young man ended up being fostered by his white school principal and his wife.

Yamamoto soon answered the call for Japanese Americans to volunteer for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd, comprised of Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans), became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military. About 18,000 men served; they received more than 15,400 awards in less than two years.

At a time when violence and hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have spiked dramatically since 2020, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in early June issued the new stamp, which features the image of Yamamoto as a soldier and highlights the motto of the 442nd — "Go For Broke" — which signified their fighting spirit during World War II.

The motto stems from a phrase spoken while playing a Hawaiian Pidgin dice game, or "craps," in which a player wagers everything on a single roll of the dice. If they lost, it would leave them "broke." These soldiers risked their lives at a time when America took away their homes, land, and property and incarcerated members of their families, so in essence, they were "going for broke." These Japanese-American World War II veterans served the United States and fought prejudice at home and abroad with patriotism and action.

Nisei soldiers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the most prestigious award given to civilians, in 2011. The honorees were veterans of the Military Intelligence Service, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It took 16 years for the "Go For Broke" stamp to finally be released, though there have been other honors for the unit. While the "Go For Broke" stamp centers on soldiers of Japanese ancestry, it also recognizes the approximately 120,000 American citizens who were forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned in internment camps.

The Stamp Our Story Coalition began in 2005 as a grassroots effort led by three Nisei women in California — Fusa Takahashi, Aiko O. King, and the late Chiz Ohira — who were incarcerated in the camps during the war. Wayne Osako, co-chair of the campaign, said communities in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest were central to the nationwide movement to secure the "Go For Broke" stamp. Two of Osako’s uncles were Nisei veterans and his grandparents lived in Dee, Oregon.

I recently spoke with a friend who is working to increase awareness of the commemorative stamp. Linda Tamura, professor emerita at Willamette University and author of two books about the Nisei, said Oregon was part of the grassroots effort. In 2009, Oregonians testified at the Oregon State Capitol, and on May 20, 2009, the Oregon Legislature passed House Joint Memorial 8, which supported the creation of the stamp.

Dr. Tamura pointed out that Oregon senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden were early supporters and wrote a letter to Postmaster General John Potter in 2009. Former Oregon representatives Greg Walden and David Wu also were supporters.

Japanese Americans in Oregon are planning a local celebration for the "Go For Broke" stamp on Monday, June 14 (Flag Day) at 5:30pm at the Oregon Historical Society Museum (1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland). Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, the public is invited to attend the ceremony virtually. (To watch, visit <> or <>.)

The ceremony is presented by Oregon Nisei Veterans, the Oregon Historical Society, the Portland chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and the Japanese American Museum of Oregon (JAMO, which was formerly known as the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center). I intend to celebrate online from home. In addition, another event readers might also want to view is the virtual opening of JAMO, <>, which was held in May.

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Opinions expressed in this newspaper are those of the
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