On June 30, The National WWII Museum opened The Go for Broke Spirit: Legacy in Portraits, a new special exhibit exploring the service, patriotism and legacy of the second-generation Japanese American, or Nisei, men and women who, in the face of prejudice and incarceration, risked their lives to advance the Allied effort in World War II. The exhibit showcases a selection of photographer Shane Sato’s powerful portraits of Japanese American WWII veterans, supplemented with artifacts and oral histories from the Museum’s collection.
The Go for Broke Spirit: Legacy in Portraits will be on display in The Joe W. & Dorothy D. Brown Foundation Special Exhibit Gallery through March 31, 2024. Support for this exhibit comes from Catherine and David Edwards.
Sato’s first-of-its-kind portrait series features Nisei WWII veterans who served with the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team and its component unit, the 100th Infantry Battalion; in the Women’s Army Corps; or as translators and interpreters with the Military Intelligence Service. As a Japanese American himself, Sato saw in his work an invaluable opportunity to “carry the torch” of his forebears and use his talents to tell their unique stories and shared experiences. The portraits, which range from serious to spirited, somber to stoic, highlight the distinct personalities of these men and women.
“During World War II, ‘Go for Broke’ served as the motto for the 100th/442nd. The regiment lived up to those words and remains the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in US Army history,” said Associate Curator Chase Tomlin. “Sato has captured the Nisei veterans’ ‘Go for Broke’ spirit of compassion, dedication and resilience with his meaningful photography.”
The exhibit examines the exclusion and incarceration of thousands of people of Japanese descent in the United States, in the wake of Pearl Harbor through Executive Order 9066, as well as Japanese Americans’ continued patriotism despite discrimination, delving into Nisei servicemembers’ training and missions.
The Go for Broke Spirit: Legacy in Portraits also explores the postwar lives of Japanese American veterans. Decades after their service, 20 Distinguished Service Crosses awarded to members of the 100th/442nd were upgraded to Medals of Honor in June 2000; Congress in 2011 honored the Nisei who served in the 100th/442nd and the MIS with the Congressional Gold Medal. Several of these prestigious awards, including the Medal of Honor awarded to 100th Infantry Battalion Second Lieutenant Yeiki Kobashigawa, are included in the exhibit, alongside oral histories reflecting on the legacy of Japanese American servicemembers.
“The National WWII Museum is proud to display these portraits and explore the stories of these Japanese American veterans who, once deemed second-class citizens, risked everything to fight for their country and collectively changed how many viewed the Japanese American community,” Tomlin said.
Shane Sato is a professional photographer based in Los Angeles, California. His project to capture the moving portraits of Nisei WWII veterans began over two decades ago, culminating in a set of coffee table books, The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Courage and The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Legacy, featuring photographs of more than 150 Japanese American veterans.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, the institution celebrates the American spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. Visit nationalww2museum.org.