Laidley landed at Veracruz on the Mexican coast in March 1847, and assisted in the reduction of that important port city. He commanded a field battery at Cerro Gordo as General Winfield Scott began his march into the interior of Mexico. The young lieutenant remained with the garrison at Puebla, where his actions were instrumental in denying that city to Santa Anna in a month-long siege in the fall of 1847. Upon his arrival in Mexico City and the victory there and ensuing treaty negotiations, Laidley explored ancient sites and followed the trails first laid by Cortez. On August 2, 1848, the military occupation of Mexico ended and Laidley, now a Brevet Major, returned to the United States. His letters home to his father in Virginia begin on August 23, 1945 (from Watervliet Arsenal, New York) and end on May 13, 1848 (from Mexico City). They reveal the horrors of the battlefield, his low opinion of volunteer soldiers, the jealousy over promotions within the officer corps, and continued concerns over his own physical and spiritual health.
After the army eventually decided it would admit the second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) volunteers, it complemented the 100th Infantry Battalion by creating the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This mostly Japanese American unit consisted of soldiers drafted before Pearl Harbor, volunteers from Hawaii, and even recruits from the relocation centers. In Going for Broke, historian James M. McCaffrey traces these men’s experiences in World War II, from training to some of the deadliest combat in Europe.
Weaving together the voices of numerous soldiers, McCaffrey tells of the men’s frustrations and achievements on the U.S. mainland and abroad. Training in Mississippi, the recruits from Hawaii and the mainland have their first encounter with southern-style black-white segregation. Once in action, they helped push the Germans out of Italy and France. The 442nd would go on to become one of the most highly decorated units in the U.S. Army.
McCaffrey’s account makes clear that like other American soldiers in World War II, the Nisei relied on their personal determination, social values, and training to “go for broke”—to bet everything, even their lives. Ultimately, their bravery and patriotism in the face of prejudice advanced racial harmony and opportunities for Japanese Americans after the war.