Preserving Stories from the Greatest Generation

Preserving Stories from the Greatest Generation

Gavin Do, Archivist, Go For Broke National Education Center

Boiled down, oral histories are inherently about allowing individuals to tell their stories while ensuring these stories stand the test of time. For the past twenty years, Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC) has focused on preserving stories from a special group of individuals.

Seventy-five years ago, the world was embroiled in war. The United States had entered World War II the year prior and was facing stiff resistance from its enemies. Young Americans were being enlisted to join the military left and right in order to meet the demand for soldiers. Meanwhile, some Japanese Americans jumped at the chance to serve their country overseas and prove their loyalty. 

Not only did these Japanese American soldiers serve and prove their loyalty, but also ended up becoming some of the most highly regarded soldiers in U.S. military history. The combined 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team is the most highly decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. military history. In total, about 18,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented seven Presidential Unit Citations. The Military Intelligence Service was a covert unit that included Nisei soldiers who served as linguists. These soldiers interrogated prisoners, translated documents, created propaganda, and served as translators during war crimes trials. They are credited with shortening the war by two years. On November 2, 2011, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the 19,000 veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service.

In 1998, Go For Broke National Education Center recorded its first oral history interview with one of the Nisei World War II veterans. It was the first of what would be many interviews recorded through its Hanashi (“to talk” or “story” in Japanese) Oral History Program. Twenty years later, GFBNEC has recorded over 1,250 interviews with Nisei veterans of World War II and their contemporaries in the war effort. In these oral history interviews, the veterans are able to open up and share their experiences from several phases of their lives. These individuals grew up during the Great Depression, saw Pearl Harbor bombed, and saw their civil liberties violated before even going overseas to serve. 

The GFBNEC website says it best: “These oral histories provide valuable insight into the war experience that cannot be conveyed by official records alone. They capture the feelings and textures of experiences that are as varied as the individuals who lived through them. This program gives voice to those who until now may have had little opportunity, motivation, or desire to share their stories. It also allows the Nisei generation to connect with younger generations through shared values and experiences. Their testimonies reveal as much about historical events as about issues that continue to face our nation today, like the importance of civil liberties and racial tolerance. It is through this vital collection that the contributions of Japanese American war veterans live on.”

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1. From Bob Morinishi interview, Torrance, California, February 22, 2015 (

2. Original veterans and wives, future site announcement