GO FOR BROKE! (1950)
Director: Robert Pirosh.
Starring: Van Johnson (Lt. Michael Grayson),
Lane Nakano (Sam), George Miki (Chick), Akira Fukunaga (Frank), Ken K. Okamoto (Kaz),
Henry Oyasato (Ohhara), Harry Hamada (Masami), Henry Nakamura (Tommy), Warner
Anderson (Col. Charles W. Pence), Don Haggerty (Sgt. Wilson I. Culley), Gianna
Maria Canale (Rosina), Dan Riss (Capt. Solari).
"Go for broke!" was the motto of the 442nd U.S. regiment, a unit of Japanese-American soldiers fighting in Europe during World War II.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Japanese-Americans manned the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. They were in 7 major campaigns, suffered 9,486 casualties, earned 18,143 individual decorations and 7 Presidential Unit Citations.
It all began in 1943 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
The white Texan Lt. Grayson arrives at the unit for the first time. He speaks with the commander of the outfit, a Colonel, and almost immediately asks for a transfer to a Texas unit, the 36th. The Colonel is irritated with the new lieutenant and asks him if the real reason he wants a transfer is racial prejudice. Grayson denies it, but he is not very convincing. The Colonel tells him the Japanese-Americans (called by themselves Nisei) are all volunteers. And everyone of them have been thoroughly investigated before being allowed to serve. Grayson has a bad attitude and the Colonel gives him an emphatic "no" to his request for a transfer.
Grayson is angry and he takes it out on the first Japanese-American soldier he sees, Tommy. Tommy may be the smallest man in the unit but is a man who wants to fight. Since he is so small none of the uniforms fit him. But Grayson has no sympathy or empathy for the very young soldier and reads him the riot act. Tommy warns the other soldiers in his barracks that Grayson is going to be a real hard-ass.
Grayson comes in to the barracks for an inspection. He scolds every trooper for one or another error without one word of encouragement. He tells them that they will be making a speed hike. Tommy speaks with his good buddy Sam. Sam learns that Tommy lost both his mother and father in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and he now really wants to fight the Japanese.
May 1, 1944. The unit is headed for Italy. They land at Naples and start heading towards Rome. Grayson meets a pretty, young Italian woman, tells some of his men to notify him if the unit is moving out and goes into the woman's home. Very soon the unit has to move out and the man with the responsibility to tell Grayson forgets his assignment in the excitement of heading out. Grayson irresponsibly does not occasionally check on his troops. When he is finally ready to leave, the unit is long gone. He has to run to catch up with his unit.
When Grayson finally catches up with his unit, the Colonel immediately calls him over. The Colonel tells Grayson that he covered for him with the higher-up officers, but quickly lets Grayson know he is angry with him. He simply tells Grayson that he has been a great thorn in the side of the unit's operations. Now the Colonel is willing to let Grayson transfer at the first opportunity into his beloved Texas unit.
The unit has to head out to the front. Grayson learns that the Texans are heading to another Theatre of Operations. Tommy and Sam assist some other soldiers in killing two Germans who fired on them hitting a couple of the group. Later in an attack on a German command post, Tommy proves himself a bit of a hero. The mortar unit was hit by a shell and all were killed. Tommy was nearby and received a bad leg wound. Despite his pain, he is able to disassemble the damaged mortar, grab the barrel of the mortar, move it to another location and start firing on the command post. He does such a good job that his fellows are able to take the command post. A number of German soldiers surrender to the unit. The German commander is shocked to see what he thinks are Chinese soldiers. Grayson jokingly tells the German officer that the troops are Japanese; that Japan has surrendered and are now fighting along side the Americans against the Germans. The German is bewildered by it all.
An outstanding soldier by the last name of O'Hara (which is a big joke among all in the unit) gets promoted to lieutenant. This improves morale among the other Japanese-American soldiers, who up to now have only dealt with white American officers. (And one of them a prejudiced Texan.) Grayson learns from the Colonel that the unit will be attached to the Texan 36th. The Colonel sarcastically remarks that Gray got his wish, but Grayson shows signs of softening his attitude to his men.
The unit is moved to Marseilles, France. Tommy has been carrying around a pig with him. While he was at the front he asked a French family to look after the animal. When he returns to the house, he learns that the French family with four children are slowly starving. He thinks long and hard and debates with himself about the pig, but with tears in his eyes he gives the pig to the family for food. The family is extremely grateful to Tommy.
The Texans are to be sent to the front without their own artillery to cover them. They have to rely on the Japanese-Americans for artillery support and a couple of the men start griping about it. Grayson meets his old Texas platoon sergeant, but is extremely upset when he learns that the man is brazenly open with his criticisms of the Japanese-Americans, referring to them as "Japs". He tries to tell the Texan that the men are good soldiers, but the Texan will not hear of it. Grayson agrees to fight the bigot and wins the fight.
Sam hears that his brother back home, released from a Japanese-American internment camp in the US, was badly beaten up by a group of white guys. Sam and his buddies are very angry over the incident as they witness Japanese-Americans dying for the US.
The Texan unit is almost completely surrounded by German troops. They are referred to as the "lost battalion". Grayson has been transferred to the post of a observer of artillery fire. The Japanese-American troops, now under Lt. O'Hara, are sent to rescue the Texans. Lt. O'Hara is the first man in the unit on this assignment killed by the Germans. Now a sergeant has to take charge of the troops. They press on toward the lost battalion. Meanwhile, Grayson and another man are working their way toward the Japanese-American troops to make contact. The two groups run into each other and a brand new soldier, the brother of Lt. O'Hara, starts immediately firing on what he thinks are the Germans. They trade shots for awhile, until Grayson realizes that he is fighting his former soldiers. He and his fellows start shouting to the unit that they are Americans and a cease-fire is called. Grayson is now happy to see the men of his old unit.
The Japanese-Americans arrive, saving the Texans. The bigoted Texan platoon sergeant tells the "Japs" that he is very happy to see them. When they give him a dirty look, the sergeant just smiles and refers to them in several acceptable ways. Other Texans thank the men who rescued them. The Texans head off the line and the Japanese-Americans take over.
By transport ship, the men of the much decorated Nisei unit arrives back home to the delight of all the men.
Pretty good movie. The movie is a "thank you" to the Japanese-American soldiers who fought so valiantly for their nation, the United States of America. It sympathetically explains that the soldiers had suffered terrible events back in the States, including interments of many of their families in internment camps even though they were American citizens. Many of the men did not even speak Japanese. In spite of this treatment, and in part because of it, thousands of Japanese-American men volunteered to fight for the country. They all wanted to prove to their fellow Americans that they were loyal Americans willing to give their lives for their country. (And the men did not even know whether they would be sent to Europe or Asia.)
The Japanese-American soldiers persevered against racial prejudice and discrimination to deliver outstanding performances in World War II. It gives the non-bigoted viewers more empathy for what the troops went through and more appreciation of their sacrifices for their country.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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