The adjective gung ho means extremely or overly zealous or enthusiastic, especially extremely keen to participate in military combat—cf. also jingo.
This word is from Chinese (Beijing) gōnghé, which was interpreted as meaning work together; this Chinese word is an abbreviation of Zhōngguó Gōngyè Hézuò Shè, meaning Chinese Industrial Cooperative Society—source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
The earliest instances of gung ho that I have found are from China’s Guerrilla Industry, by Bertram B. Fowler, “a well known [sic] expert on the co-operative movement in the United States”, published in Survey Graphic: Magazine of Social Interpretation (New York City, N. Y.) of Saturday 1st February 1941; the following is the beginning of this article:
There is a new battle cry being shouted in China today. It is Gung-ho and it means simply, “Work together.” You can hear it above the interminable growl of the artillery of the invader; above the menacing drone of the bombing planes. You hear it in the whir of wheels, the clack of looms, and the throb of machines, from the wooded mountains of the far Northwest to the southeastern provinces of Fukien and Kwangtung.
It is China’s answer to brutal invasion and strangling blockade. It is appearing in terms of thousands of new industries which are multiplying daily, almost hourly, across the whole sweep of that gigantic country. In compounds, dugouts, deserted temples, in hidden canyons and valleys, along the sweep of rivers, and in ruined villages these industries are answering the guns of the invaders with a flow of goods to supply the stubbornly fighting sons of Han with the sinews of war, with blankets for their beds, sandals for their feet, and bandages for their wounds.
Gung-ho is the slogan of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, the creation of a system to replace a systemless chaos. It is “guerrilla industry,” something new in the history of modern warfare.
This slogan was soon adopted in the USA, as shown for example by the following advertisement for the Plainfield National Bank, published in the Plainfield Courier-News (Plainfield, New Jersey) of Saturday 20th September 1941:
. . Pronounced “Gung ho!”
It is the slogan that’s inspiring all China today.
It means, “Work together”
It’s a good slogan for America.
You will find us ready to “work with you” at every opportunity whether your financial needs be for defense or other purposes.
THE PLAINFIELD NATIONAL BANK
We Sell Defense Bonds and Stamps Without Charge
On the same day, Saturday 20th September 1941, the Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, Missouri) published the following paragraph:
Today all of war-torn China is being inspired by a slogan. It is echoing from one end to the other of that long-suffering and unhappy country. It is pronounced “Gung ho!” and wherever you go and whoever you meet you hear it time and time again. It is on every lip and it is not only giving China the courage to carry on but it is knitting the Chinese people together as never before. It means “Work together!” and it is a slogan the United States sadly needs in this dark hour. There is too much of bitterness and strife and dissension and strikes and discord and disunity in this land of ours. With a grave and a common danger confronting us, how essential it is that we “work together!” It is a motto to hang on the wall of your office or home today—and a motto to uphold and practice in your every act and deed. Therein lies strength and unity.
The word gung ho came to be also used as a verb, as in the following paragraph from The Democrat-Argus (Caruthersville, Missouri) of Friday 26th September 1941:
The Chinese, it is said, have a new motto, a slogan which is the first greeting when two Chinese meet up—“Gung Ho”. It means “work together”, so it is said, and it is pretty good maxim at that. The people of the United States could well do a little Gung Ho-ing just now.
An advertisement for the Newsreel Theatre, published in The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California) of Saturday 7th March 1942, mentioned the screening of
China Fights For Its Life
The current sense of gung ho arose from the fact that Evans Fordyce Carlson (1896-1947) adopted the slogan when he was placed in command of the Second Marine Raider Battalion, as reported in Work Together Is New Cry Of Carlson’s Raiders Who Have Doctrine for Invaders, published in The Austin American (Austin, Texas) of Tuesday 8th September 1942:
Washington, Sept. 7.—(INS)—The new battle cry of “Carlson’s Raiders,” who besieged the Japanese base on Makin island Aug. 17, now is “gung ho,” or in English, “work together.”
The navy reported that Lieut. Col. Evans F. Carlson, USMC., leader of the marines, adopted the slogan for his own men after making a tour recently of China’s industrial cooperatives.
The battle-cry, shouted by the men as they go into action, is known as “the doctrine of the raiders.” It follows:
“We are the raiders of the land and sea.
We work together for democracy.
Gung ho! Gung ho! Gung ho! Ho!”
“We are tough; we are just;
We fight when e’er we must
For the right to be free.
“We want to do our duty,
Because it’s right;
And our duty will give those Japs a fright.
“We execute all orders with a promptitude
That will shatter the Mikado’s latitude.
“We are unbeatable—because we are right;
Those Japs can’t lick us—for we’ve got might.
“We raiders—for democracy.
“We work together; that’s why we’re free.
Gung ho! Gung ho! Gung ho! Ho!”
Frank H. Rentfrow and Don L. Dickson mentioned the marines’ battle cry gung ho in the instalment of the comic strip Sergeant Stony Craig of the Marines published in the Wilmington Press (Wilmington, California) of Tuesday 22nd December 1942:
“Yippie!!! gung ho! gung ho!”
“Come on, you raiders!”
This led to the appearance of the term gung-ho spirit, denoting specifically Carlson’s raiders’ fighting spirit, as evoked in The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) of Monday 22nd February 1943:
Washington, Feb. 21.—(AP.)—It’s the “gung ho” spirit that counts with Carlson’s raiders.
Their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson, said so on the first anniversary of the Marine battalion which made military history last year with a 30-days operation in which they destroyed five Japanese bases on Guadalcanal and killed 400 men while losing only 17 of their own men.