Medals of Honor Bestowed on 10 Service Members
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 28, 1998 The story of the intense loyalty and patriotism, sacrifices and heroic exploits of Asian Pacific Americans in the country's defense is relatively unknown. But Asian Pacific islanders and service members born in other countries, such as Portugal, have made major contributions to America's military heritage.
The United States bestowed its highest military medal for bravery -- the Medal of Honor -- on nine Asian Pacific Americans, and one Portuguese service member, to date since 1911.
Filipino Pvt. Jose B. Nisperos was the first Pacific Islander to be awarded the Medal of Honor while serving in the U.S. Army. Nisperos was awarded the medal for valor during the Philippine Insurrection while serving with the 34th Company, Philippine Scouts, during action at Lapurap, Basilan, Philippine Islands.
The Philippine Scouts was an elite U.S. Army unit formed following the Spanish-American War.
Nisperos was so badly wounded he couldn't stand up. His left arm was broken and lacerated and he suffered several spear wounds in the body. But he "continued firing his rifle with one hand until the enemy was repulsed, thereby helping prevent the annihilation of his party and the mutilation of their bodies," the citation stated.
Navy Fireman 1st Class Telesforo Trinidad, another Filipino, was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism during a boiler explosion aboard the USS San Diego on Jan. 21, 1915.
"Trinidad was driven out of fire room No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up Fireman 2nd Class R. E. Daly, whom he saw to be injured, and proceeded to bring him out," the citation stated. "While coming into fire room No. 4, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in fire room No. 3. Without consideration for his own safety, Trinidad passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from fire room No. 3. His face was severely burned by the blast from the explosion in fire room No. 3."
Two Asian Pacific Americans received the Medal of Honor during World War II: Sgt. Jose Calugas and Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori.
Calugas was honored for action on Jan. 16, 1942, near Culis, Bataan Province, Philippine Island. He was a member of the Philippine Scouts' 88th Field Artillery.
"A battery gun position was bombed and shelled by the enemy until one gun was put out of commission and all the cannoneers were killed or wounded," the citation stated. "Sgt. Calugas, a mess sergeant of another battery, voluntarily and without orders ran more than 1,000 yards across the shell-swept areas to the gun position.
"There he organized a volunteer squad which placed the gun back into commission and fired effectively against the enemy, although the position remained under constant and heavy Japanese artillery fire," the citation continued.
Munemori was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for gallantry and intrepidity near Seravezza, Italy, during World War II. He was a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese American outfit.
When his unit was pinned down by grazing enemy fire and the outfit's leader lay wounded, Munemori took over and made one-man frontal attacks through direct fire and knocked out two machine guns with grenades, the citation read.
"Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades, he had nearly reached a shell crater occupied by two of his men when an unexploded grenade bounced on his helmet and rolled toward his helpless comrades," the citation continued. "He rose into the withering fire, dived for the grenade and smothered its blast with his body. By his swift, supremely heroic action, Pfc. Munemori saved two of his men at the cost of his own life and did much to clear the path for his company's victorious advance."
Five Hawaiians and one service member of Portuguese descent were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
During the Korean War, the Medal of Honor was awarded to Cpl. Hiroshi H. Miyamura, Sgt. Leroy A. Mendonca and Pfc. Herbert K. Pililaau.
Miyamura was awarded the medal for distinguishing himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy near Taejon-ni, Korea, on April 24 and 25, 1951, according to the Medal of Honor citation. He was a member of Company H, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
On the night of April 24, the enemy attacked fanatically, threatening to overrun the company's defensive position. Miyamura, a machine gun squad leader, "unhesitatingly jumped from his shelter wielding his bayonet in close hand-to-hand combat killing about 10 enemy soldiers," the citation noted.
Returning to his position, he administered first aid to the wounded and directed their evacuation. "As another savage assault hit the line, he manned his machine gun and delivered withering fire until his ammunition was expended," read the citation. "He ordered the squad to withdraw while he stayed behind to render the gun inoperative. He then bayoneted his way through infiltrated enemy soldiers to a second gun emplacement and assisted in its operation."
The intensity of the enemy attack forced the company to withdraw, but Miyamura covered the men's withdrawal. "He killed more than 50 of the enemy before his ammunition ran out," the citation stated.
Although he was severely wounded, Miyamura continued to repel the attack until his position was overrun. "When last seen, he was fighting ferociously against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers," the citation read. Miyamura was captured. He was released after the armistice.
Mendonca, who was Portuguese, was cited for conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy near Chich-on, Korea, on July 4, 1951. Mendonca was killed during the battle.
"After his platoon, in an exhaustive fight, had captured Hill 586, the newly won positions were assaulted during the night by a numerically superior enemy force," the citation read. "When the 1st Platoon positions were outflanked and under great pressure and the platoon was ordered to withdraw to a secondary line of defense, Sgt. Mendonca voluntarily remained in an exposed position and covered the platoon's withdrawal.
"Although under murderous enemy fire, he fired his weapon and hurled grenades at the on-rushing enemy until his supply of ammunition was exhausted," the citation stated. "He fought on, clubbing with his rifle and using his bayonet until he was mortally wounded."
After the action, it was estimated that Mendonca, a member of Company B, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, had accounted for 37 enemy casualties.
"His daring actions stalled the crushing assault, protecting the platoon withdrawal to secondary positions, and enabling the entire unit to repel the enemy attack and retain possession of the vital hilltop position," the citation stated.
Pililaau, who was mortally wounded, earned the Medal of Honor on "Heartbreak Ridge" near Pia-ri, Korea, on Sept. 17, 1951. A member of Company C, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, Pililaau was cited for conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage.
"The enemy sent wave after wave of fanatical troops against his platoon which held a key terrain feature on 'Heartbreak Ridge,'" the citation said.
The company's ammunition nearly exhausted, Pililaau stayed behind to cover the company's withdrawal. He fired his automatic weapon into the ranks of the assailants, threw all his grenades and with ammunition exhausted, closed with the foe in hand-to-hand combat, courageously fighting with his trench knife and bare fists until being mortally wounded.
During the Vietnam War, the medal was bestowed on Hawaiians Cpl. Terry Teruo Kawamura, Staff Sgt. Elmelindo Smith and Sgt. 1st Class Rodney J.T. Yano.
Kawamura perished while heroically fighting enemy soldiers at Camp Radcliff, Vietnam, on March 20, 1969. He served with the 173rd Engineer Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
"An enemy demolition team infiltrated the unit quarters area and opened fire with automatic weapons," the Medal of Honor citation read. "Disregarding the intense fire, Kawamura ran for his weapon. At that moment, a violent explosion tore a hole in the roof and stunned the occupants of the room. Kawamura jumped to his feet, secured his weapon and, as he ran toward the door to return enemy fire, he observed that another explosive charge had been thrown through the hole in the roof. He immediately realized that two stunned fellow soldiers were in great peril and shouted a warning.
"Although in a position to escape, Kawamura unhesitatingly wheeled around and threw himself on the charge ... preventing serious injury or death to several members of his unit," the citation said.
A posthumous Medal of Honor was awarded Smith for gallantry and intrepidity during a reconnaissance patrol with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, on Feb. 16, 1967.
His platoon was suddenly hemmed in on three sides by deadly machine gun, mortar and rocket fire, the award citation stated. "Smith, moved through the deadly fire along the defensive line, positioning soldiers, distributing ammunition and encouraging his men to repel the enemy attack," the citation read. "Struck to the ground by enemy fire which caused a severe shoulder wound, he regained his feet, killed the enemy soldier and continued to move about the perimeter."
Wounded again in the shoulder and stomach, Smith started crawling on his knees to assist in the defense. "Noting the enemy massing at a weakened point on the perimeter, he crawled into the open and poured deadly fire into the enemy ranks," the citation states.
Smith was struck by a rocket, but regained consciousness minutes later. "Drawing on his fast dwindling strength, Smith continued to crawl from man to man. When he could move no farther, he chose to remain in the open where he could alert the perimeter to the approaching enemy. Smith perished, never relenting in his determined effort against the enemy.
"The valorous acts and heroic leadership inspired those remaining members of his platoon to beat back the enemy assaults," the citation read.
Yano was decorated for valor as a crew chief aboard an 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment command-and-control helicopter near Bien Hao, Vietnam, on Jan. 1, 1969.
Enemy troops entrenched in dense jungle attacked the helicopter with small arms and antiaircraft fire, according to the Medal of Honor citation. "From an exposed position in the face of intense small arms and antiaircraft fire, Yano delivered suppressive fire upon the enemy forces and marked their positions with smoke and white phosphorous grenades. This enabled his troop commander to direct accurate and effective artillery fire against the hostile emplacement," the citation stated.
A grenade exploded prematurely, covering Yano with burning phosphorous and leaving him severely wounded. Flaming fragments within the helicopter caused supplies and ammunition to detonate. Dense white smoke filled the aircraft, obscuring the pilot's vision and causing him to lose control, the citation continued.
Yano had lost the use of one arm and was partly blinded by the explosion. "Sgt. Yano completely disregarded his welfare and began hurling blazing ammunition from the helicopter," the citation stated. "In so doing, he inflicted additional wounds upon himself, he persisted until the danger was past. His indomitable courage and profound concern for his comrades averted loss of life and additional injury to the rest of the crew."