By Rudi WilliamsAmerican Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 10, 2000 Perhaps the greatest tribute 22 World War II Asian American Medal of Honor recipients can receive comes from a soldier who saw the war from the perspective of the front-line GI.
At a special Medal of Honor luncheon June 21 at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Army Secretary Louis Caldera recalled for the audience the words of wartime "The Stars and Stripes" newspaper cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who wrote admiringly after the war of the Japanese American soldiers he'd seen:
"No combat unit in the Army could exceed [them] in loyalty, hard work, courage and sacrifice. Hardly a man of them hasn't been decorated at least twice, and their casualty lists were appalling.... A lot of us in Italy used to scratch our heads and wonder how we would feel if we were wearing the uniform of a country that mistreated our families. Most of us came to the conclusion that we would be pretty damn sulky about it, and we marveled at those guys who didn't sulk ... and showed more character and guts per man than any 10 of the rest of us ... . We were proud to be wearing the same uniform."
The next day, June 22, when Caldera inducted the 22 heroes into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, he said, "We will never forget Pvt. Barney Hajiro, whose uphill charge against heavy fire in the forests of eastern France remains legendary even among his battle- hardened comrades.
"His was among many outstanding acts of bravery during the famous battle to rescue the 'Lost Battalion' (the Texas National Guard 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment), which had been encircled by the enemy and was in imminent danger of annihilation," Caldera said. "In that fearful engagement, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team suffered about 800 casualties to save 211 Texans -- four Nisei soldiers killed or wounded for each fellow soldier saved."
Hajiro was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor on Oct. 19, 22 and 29, 1944, near Bruyeres and Biffontaine, France.
Caldera said America should never forget Tech. Sgt. James K. Okubo, a medic -- a noncombatant -- who took his duty to care for the wounded so seriously that time and again he dashed and crawled across open field to rescue injured men at the front line. He shielding them with his body from withering machine gun fire and mortar attack even as he treated them and carried them to safety.
The Medal of Honor was bestowed on Okubo for heroism on Oct. 28 and 29, and Nov. 4, 1944, with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team near Biffontaine, France. According to his citation, "Under constant barrages of enemy small arms and machine gun fire, Okubo treated 17 men on Oct. 28 and eight more on Oct. 29. On Nov. 4, Okubo ran 75 yards under grazing machine gun fire and, while exposed to hostile fire directed at him, evacuated and treated a seriously wounded crewman from a burning tank, who otherwise would have died."
Caldera recalled the sacrifice of Pfc. Kiyoshi Muranaga, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team mortarman who held his position as his company dispersed and sought cover from enemy gunfire.
"Fully exposing his position to the enemy, he called down his own death as he dueled one-on-one, but hopelessly outmatched, with the heavier artillery of a deadly German 88 mm self-propelled gun in order to protect his comrades," Caldera said. Muranaga was killed when an 88 mm shell scored a direct hit on his position. His heroic actions took place on June 26, 1944, near Suvereto, Italy.
"And we will never forget the many others represented here today who, on distant shores, on countless battlefields, risked all they hold dear to carry out their duty," the secretary said.
The exploits of the nation's 22 newest Medal of Honor recipients are not widely known, though the heroes in their time were recognized with Distinguished Service Crosses, the second highest valor award. Now upgraded to Medal of Honor status following a military review of their records and President Clinton's approval, however, their names are indelibly etched into the annals of military and American history.
Hasemoto and his squad leader had killed about 20 enemy soldiers. Hasemoto ran through a barrage of enemy machine gun fire to pick up an M-1 rifle. He and the squad leader killed 10 more enemy soldiers. With only three enemy left, the two GIs charged forward, killed one, wounded another and captured the third. The next day, Hasemoto was killed while repelling an enemy attack.
Even as Kobashigawa and his comrade took the first nest, another machine gun opened fire on them from 50 yards ahead. Directing a squad into the captured position, Kobashigawa and another soldier advanced against the second gun. After throwing grenades into the position, he provided cover fire while his comrade charged and captured four prisoners. Discovering four more machine gun nests, he led a squad in neutralizing two of them.
Taking his prisoner with him, Moto holed up near a house and guarded it to prevent the enemy from using it as an observation post. Observing an enemy machine gun team moving into position, he opened fire and forced them to flee.
An enemy sniper in another house severely wounded Moto. Applying first aid to his wound, he eluded sniper fire and made his way to the rear for treatment. As he crossed a road, he spotted an enemy machine gun nest and opened fire, wounding two of the three soldiers occupying the position. He advanced on the nest, ordered the enemy to surrender and opened fire when he received no answer. The enemy soldiers then quickly surrendered.
Later that afternoon, Nakamine discovered an enemy soldier on the right flank of his platoon's position. Crawling 25 yards, Nakamine opened fire and killed the enemy. Then, seeing a machine gun nest about 25 yards to his front, he led an automatic rifle team against it. Under covering fire, he crawled to within 25 yards of the nest and neutralized it with hand grenades, wounding one enemy soldier and capturing four. He was leading the automatic rifle team against a second nest about 100 yards to his right when he was killed by a burst of machine gun fire.
When his company was ordered to withdraw from the crest of a hill so that a mortar barrage could be placed on the ridge, Nakamura remained in position to cover his comrades' withdrawal. When deadly machine gun fire pinned down the company, Nakamura crawled within range of the enemy position and opened fire, pinning down the machine gunner. The unit completed its withdrawal, but Nakamura was killed during his heroic stand.
Disregarding his own safety, Ohata sprinted through heavy machine gun fire, reached his comrade's position, immediately sprayed 10 enemy soldiers and successfully covered the man's withdrawal to replace his damaged weapon. Ohata and the automatic rifleman held their positions and killed some 37 enemy. Then the men charged and captured the three remaining soldiers. Later, the two stopped another attacking force of 14, killing four and wounding three while the others fled. The next day, the two men again held their ground against waves of enemy soldiers and staved off all attacks.
Organizing his men to guard against a possible enemy counterattack, Otani again made his way across the open field, shouting instructions to stranded men while continuing to draw enemy fire. Reaching the rear of the platoon position, he took partial cover in a shallow ditch and directed covering fire for the men who had begun to move forward.
When one of his men was seriously wounded, he ordered the rest to remain under cover. Otani crawled to the wounded soldier, who was lying on open ground in full view of the enemy. Dragging the wounded soldier to a shallow ditch, Otani was killed by machine gun fire while administering first aid to the soldier.
While advancing forward, Tanouye's left arm was severely wounded by grenade bursts. Sighting an enemy-held trench, he raked the position with submachine gun fire and wounded several enemy troops. Running out of ammunition, he crawled about 20 yards to obtain several clips from a comrade on his left flank. He then sighted an enemy with a machine pistol who had pinned down his men. Tanouye crawled forward a few yards and threw a hand grenade into the position, silencing the pistol fire.
He then located another enemy machine gun firing down the slope of the hill, opened fire on it and silenced that position. Drawing fire from a machine pistol nest above him, he opened fire on it and wounded three of its occupants. Finally taking his objective, Tanouye organized a defensive position of the reverse slope of the hill before accepting first aid treatment and evacuation.
Boldly attacking the hill with the remaining men of his squad, Hayashi attained his objective and discovered that the mortars had neutralized three machine guns, killed 27 and wounded many others.
While attacking Tendola two days later, Hayashi maneuvered his squad up a steep terraced hill to within 100 yards of the enemy. Crawling under intense fire to a hostile machine gun position, he threw a grenade, killing one enemy soldier and forcing the other members of the gun crew to surrender.
Seeing four enemy machine guns firing on his platoon, he knocked out one nest with a grenade and engaged a second, killing four enemy soldiers and forcing the rest to flee. Attempting to pursue the enemy, Hayashi was mortally wounded by a burst of machine pistol fire.
Circling to the rear of another nest, he knocked it out with point- blank submachine gun fire. Pursuing two fleeing riflemen, Nishimoto killed one and captured the other. He then drove a third crew from its position. The enemy force, their key strong points taken, withdrew from that sector.
Okutsu recovered quickly and charged several enemy riflemen with his submachine gun, forcing them to withdraw. He then rushed a fourth gun nest from the flank and captured the weapon and its crew. His singlehanded actions enabled his platoon to resume its assault on a vital objective.
Advancing through incessant fire, Ono killed a sniper and, while the squad leader reorganized the platoon in the rear, defended the critical position alone. A burst of enemy machine pistol fire wrenched Ono's weapon from his grasp as enemy troops closed on him. Hurling hand grenades, he forced the enemy to retreat and defended his position until the rest of the platoon arrived.
Taking a wounded comrade's rifle, Ono again joined in the assault. He boldly ran through withering automatic, small arms and mortar fire to render first aid to his platoon leader and a seriously wounded rifleman. When the platoon was ordered to withdraw, Ono occupied virtually unprotected positions near the crest of the hill, engaging an enemy machine gun on an adjoining ridge and exchanging fire with snipers armed with machine pistols.
Disregarding his own safety, he made himself the constant target of concentrated enemy fire until the platoon reached the comparative safety of a draw. He then descended the hill in stages, firing his rifle, until he rejoined the platoon.
His squad leader killed, Sakato took charge and continued his relentless tactics. He used an enemy rifle and pistol to stop an organized enemy attack, killing 12 enemy, wounding two, capturing four and assisting in taking 30 other prisoners. His gallantry and fighting spirit turned impending defeat into victory and helped his platoon complete its mission.
Inouye boldly crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying it. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest with submachine gun fire.
Although wounded by a sniper's bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions.
Caught on an exposed hillside by heavy fire from a well-entrenched enemy force, his machine gunners were reluctant to risk putting their guns into action.
Davila crawled 50 yards to the nearest enemy machine gun nest and opened fire on the enemy from the kneeling position, ignoring return fire that struck his tripod and passed between his legs. Ordering a gunner to take over, he crawled forward to a vantage point and directed fire with hand and arm signals until both hostile machine guns were silenced.
Bringing his three remaining machine guns into action, he drove the enemy back 200 yards. Though wounded in the leg, he dashed to a burning tank and engaged a second enemy force from its turret. Dismounting, he advanced 130 yards in short rushes, crawled 20 yards and charged into an enemy-held house and eliminated the five defenders with a hand grenade and rifle fire. Climbing to the attic, he straddled a large shell hole in the wall and opened fire on the enemy. Although the walls of the house were crumbling, he continued to fire until he had destroyed two more machine guns.
As Kuroda expended the last of his ammo, he saw an American officer felled by machine gun fire from an adjacent hill. He rushed to the officer's aid, but found the man was already dead. Picking up a submachine gun, he advanced through continuous fire to the second machine gun emplacement and destroyed it. As he turned to fire on other enemy soldiers, he was killed by a sniper.
Disregarding heavy enemy fire, he moved inland without cover through the rice paddies. The men, inspired by his cool demeanor and example, followed him. During his advance, Wai repeatedly pinpointed enemy strong points by exposing his position and drawing their fire. He was killed while leading an assault on the last Japanese pillbox in the area.
Ten of the 22 Asian American Medal of Honor recipients survived the war, though three have died in the interim. The seven living recipients honored in Washington were Davila of Vista, Calif.; Hajiro of Waipahu, Hawaii; Shizuya Hayashi of Pearl City, Hawaii; Inouye of Honolulu, Hawaii; Kobashigawa of Waianae, Hawaii; Okutsu of Hilo, Hawaii; and Sakato of Denver.
"The blessings of freedom and prosperity that we all enjoy today are your legacy," Caldera told the seven. "You are the Private Ryans -- not the mythical Private Ryans of the silver screen, but the real life Private Ryans -- or better said, the Private Hayashis and Sergeant Okutsus -- who saved the world from tyranny and oppression.
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