April 5 – National Go for Broke Day

Posted on April 5, 2016

I used to associate the phrase “go for broke” with gambling. After all, the phrase DOES mean “bet everything” or “wager everything.”

I'm not big on gambling. I don't have fun playing poker for money with my friends, I don't buy lottery tickets, and I don't vacation in casinos in Las Vegas, even though it is quite close to my home in Southern California.

But today I gained a new respect for the phrase “go for broke.” Because today I learned two surprising things about it:

    1) It comes from Hawaiian Pidgin, and
    2) It is associated with one of the most highly decorated military units in World War II.

So, you may ask what Hawaiian Pidgin is...

A “pidgin” is a language that is created when two groups of people who do not share a language must find a way to communicate with one another. In the case of Hawaiian Pidgin, a pidgin language was created when Native Hawaiians, foreign immigrants including Japanese people, and English-speaking settlers tried to communicate as they ran and worked on sugarcane plantations.

However, Hawaiian Pidgin ended up transcending the plantations and even the definition of a pidgin. It became a full-fledged language based in part on English, with different grammatical rules and a bunch of words imported from Hawaiian, Japanese, and Filipino.

You can sometimes hear Hawaiian Pidgin spoken on the TV show Hawaii Five-O.

And it is this language, which I have heard but which I never realized was a different language, that is the origin of the phrase “go for broke.”

What does “go for broke” have to do with that military unit?

You probably know that the United States didn't fully enter World War II until the nation came under attack by the Japanese. It was Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that was attacked.

I am ashamed to remind you that the U.S. government treated many citizens with Japanese ancestry terribly. Yet a lot of Japanese Americans volunteered to fight in the armed forces (in some cases at least partly to prove their loyalty).

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army was made up of mostly Japanese-American volunteers. These men fought with such valor, they became the most decorated infantry regiment in the entire history of the U.S. Army!

As a whole, the regiment earned: 

  • 8 Presidential Unit Citations for outstanding accomplishments in combat, 
  • 21 Medals of Honor, 
  • 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 
  • 1 Distinguished Service Medal, 
  • 560 Silver Stars, 
  • 22 Legion of Merit Medals, 
  • 15 Soldier's Medals, 
  • 4,000 Bronze Stars, and 
  • 9,486 Purple Hearts!!!

On this date in 1945, the first Medal of Honor recipient in the regiment was killed in action in Italy. Private First Class Sadao Munemori sacrificed his life for the men in his unit.

The motto of this amazing regiment was “Go for broke!” There have been movies, songs, and books about the 442nd by that name.


Consider your passions, your projects, your goals. Once you know what you want to accomplish, give it all you can. Leave nothing on the table – which means don't hold back out of fear. Risk making mistakes and looking foolish.

(Again, a reminder: I'm not talking about gambling. It's very foolish to risk all of your money on a game! I'm talking about risking the embarrassment of having people say “she's not good enough” or “he's a wanna-be.” If you want to dance or act or sing or play drums or play baseball, just do it!)

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