By Eddie Lo
The angled, semicircular, monument in the heart of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, stands polished in black marble, describes the conditions Japanese Americans faced during a time in history when Japanese Americans were sent to relocation camps.
Reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., flowers, cards, and relatives of these veterans can be seen paying their respects to fallen friends and family members. The back of the monument features the names of over 16,000 Nisei soldiers, named as such because these soldiers were the first generation of Japanese descent to be born abroad. Its shape and orientation is symbolic of the uphill battles both literally and figuratively that these soldiers faced in the midst of paranoia and discrimination during American war efforts.
Proudly displayed at the top of the monument, which was designed by Roger M. Yanagita, an architect from Los Angeles, is the motto, “Go for Broke,” which was, according to the group’s website, the unit motto for the 100th Infantry Battalion and later adopted as the motto for all Japanese American units of WWII.
The Go for Broke Monument commemorates the Japanese Americans of the U.S. Army during the war, can be found in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, and along with the Go for Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC) in Torrance, Calif., is a local resource for parents, veterans, and students alike to educate communities about the legacy of the war efforts of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The education center was established as the MIS WWII Memorial Foundation in 1989, originally formed to erect the Go for Broke Monument. Through the monument and subsequent opening of the resource center, these veterans hoped to educate and inform communities, through educational means, on the sacrifices Japanese Americans had to make during WWII and obstacles they faced such as racism and intolerance.
According to Bill Seki, who has been chairman of the board of directors for the organization four years now, many of these records were taken from the Library of Congress and US Army records, and any of the primary sources that can be found at the Resource Center come from actual Japanese internment camps. New resources are being added each day.
“(The organization) discovered an entire list of over 30,000 Japanese Americans who served in the war, about twice the number of those listed on the monument,” Seki said. There are plans to expand the resource center and set up a branch near the Little Tokyo monument, these names will be added to the monument so that the list is more comprehensive.
In addition to maintaining primary resources and artifacts, the resource center has set out to achieve its goal of raising awareness and preserving history in part by obtaining over 700 interviews for an oral history video archive, half of which are accessible on its website.
The video collection is funded by a grant from the state of California. The documentation and preservation of these oral histories, under the Hanashi Oral History Program, is the limelight of the education center. Many of these interviews were used in the education center’s documentary, “A Tradition of Honor,” which told the story of Japanese American war veterans. Other clips of the Hanashi interviews can be seen in museums throughout the nation.
The organization is working on is to update a comprehensive database, featuring each and every Japanese American war veteran with links to any reference their name appears in, whether it be an Army list, oral history video, or newspaper article.
Kevin Cheng, who recently visited the Resource Center, was able to find everything he needed on a summer research assignment.
“Everything was extremely well organized and the people there were really helpful,” he said. “There is a lot of history to be discovered within the center, and the organization is clearly succeeding in its purpose of preserving Japanese American history.”
The organization’s is dependent on volunteers to help answer questions, organize and document resources, and keep the organization running. GFBNEC holds annual volunteering training and orientations at the Torrance office. Seki’s father was a veteran of the 100th Battalion, and said there are more than 15 staff members and 400 volunteers who all help make the preservation of this history possible.
“We all are working on our own time as volunteers, and do not get paid to do our jobs,” he said. Seki, who currently works at a law firm, shows great enthusiasm and a positive outlook for the organization.
“Everyone on the board and staff is there because we want to educate the community of the Japanese-American veterans who served in World War II,” he said.
As the organization continues to expand and modernize with a planned re-launch of its website later next year, those involved hope to introduce and update the stories and histories of Japanese Americans to newer generations.
Robi Shibao-Martin, a current staff member at the organization, sums up what she believes encompasses the reasoning for many of the volunteers and staff members to get involved with Go For Broke.
“After volunteering for five years at the biggest fundraisers, including Gala dinners and other events of those sorts, I found the organization to be a great way to know the vets and their stories,” she said. “My dad, who is a WWII veteran, didn’t really talk much about his history, so this is a great way for me to learn more about his generation and what he went through.”
For more information regarding volunteer opportunities visit: goforbroke.org, or call 310-328-0907. The Go For Broke Monument is located at 160 N. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012, and the Resource Center can be found at 370 Amapola Avenue, Suite 110, Torrance, CA 90501.
Photo courtesy of the Go For Broke National Education Center.
Eddie Lo is a student at the University of California, Berkeley and 2007 AAJA-LA scholarship winner.