21 Asian American World War II Vets to Get Medal of Honor
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 19, 2000 Twenty-one Asian American World War II heroes are scheduled to have their wartime Distinguished Service Crosses upgraded to Medals of Honor during White House ceremonies on June 21.
Seven of the 21 recipients are still living. They are: Rudolph B. Davila of Vista, Calif.; Barney F. Hajiro of Waipahu, Hawaii; Shizuya Hayashi of Pearl City, Hawaii; U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Honolulu, Hawaii; Yeiki Kobashigawa of Hawaii (city not available); Yukio Okutsu of Hilo, Hawaii; and George T. Sakato of Denver.
The Distinguished Service Cross was conferred on 11 of the heroes posthumously. The remaining three have died since the war.
President Clinton approved the Army's recommendations for the upgrades on May 12. Nineteen of the 21 veterans were members of the all-Japanese 100th Infantry Battalion or 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- for their size, among the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history.
The 100th, comprised mostly of Japanese American National Guardsmen from Hawaii, was the first all-Japanese American combat unit. While the 442nd was being formed in 1943, the 100th Battalion was already fighting in Italy. The 100th merged into the 442nd in 1944 and became the regiment's first battalion though it retained its unit designation.
The upgrading of the medals stems from efforts by Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who authored the provision of the 1996 Defense Authorization Act mandating a review of the service records of Asian Pacific Americans who received the Distinguished Service Cross.
"The number of nominations made by the Army and approved ... by the president underscores the reason I sought this review: to dispel any doubt about discrimination in the process of awarding the Medal of Honor," Akaka said in a press release.
He noted that the 100th and 442nd fought with incredible courage and bravery in Italy and France, well befitting the unit motto, "Go for Broke!" -- Hawaiian slang for "shoot the works." Its members earned more than 18,000 individual decorations, including one wartime Medal of Honor, 53 Distinguished Service Crosses, 9,486 Purple Hearts and seven Presidential Unit Citations, the nation's top award for combat units.
"Unfortunately, Asian Pacific Americans were not accorded full consideration for the Medal of Honor at the time of their service," said Akaka, who praised the Army and Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera for a "tremendous job conducting" the records review.
"A prevailing climate of racial prejudice against Asian Pacific Americans during World War II precluded this basic fairness, the most egregious example being the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans," Akaka said. "The bias, discrimination and hysteria of that time unfortunately had an impact on the decision to award the military's highest honor to Asian and Pacific Islanders."
Many of the Japanese Americans who served in the 442nd volunteered from internment camps, where their families had been relocated at the outbreak of war.
The 100th and 442nd fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France and Germany, including battles at Monte Cassino, Anzio and Biffontaine.
The best-known of the 21 heroes is Inouye.
"I am deeply grateful to my nation for this extraordinary award," he said in a brief statement after learning he had been selected for the nation's highest award for valor. "The making of a man involves many mentors. If I did well, much of the credit should go to my parents, grandparents and the gallant men of my platoon. This is their medal. I will receive it on their behalf."
According to his Senate biography, Army Sgt. Inouye "slogged through nearly three bloody months of the Rome- Arno campaign with the U.S. Fifth Army and established himself as an outstanding patrol leader with the 'Go-For- Broke Regiment.'"
Inouye's unit shifted from Italy to the Vosges Mountains in France and "spent two of the bloodiest weeks of the war rescuing 'The Lost Battalion,' the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, of the Texas National Guard, which was surrounded by German forces," according to his biography.
The Japanese American unit sustained more than 800 casualties to rescue 211 Texans. The rescue is listed in the Army annals as one of the most significant military battles of the century.
"Inouye lost 10 pounds, became a platoon leader and earned the Bronze Star Medal and a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant," the bio states.
The regiment went back to Italy, and Inouye was cited for heroism while leading his platoon against the enemy at San Terenzo on April 21, 1945. Though hit in the abdomen by a bullet that came out his back and barely missed his spine, he continued to lead the platoon and advanced alone against a machine gun nest that had pinned down his men.
"He tossed two hand grenades with devastating effect before his right arm was shattered by a German rifle grenade at close range," according to the senatorial bio. "Inouye threw his last grenade with his left hand, attacked with a submachine gun and was finally knocked down the hill by a bullet in the leg."
After 20 months in Army hospitals, Inouye returned home as a captain with a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest award for military valor, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster and 12 other medals and citations.
He became Hawaii's first congressman in 1959 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Inouye, a native of Honolulu, was re-elected to a full term in 1960 and won election to the U.S. Senate in 1962.
The 20 other veterans scheduled to receive the Medal of Honor are:
- Staff Sgt. (later 2nd Lt.) Rudolph B. Davila, 7th Infantry, for actions on May 28, 1944, at Artena, Italy.
- Pvt. Barney F. Hajiro, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions in October 1944, at Bruyeres and Biffontaine, France.
- Pvt. Mikio Hasemoto, 100th Infantry Battalion, for actions on Nov. 29, 1943, at Cerasuolo, Italy (posthumous).
- Pvt. Joe Hayashi, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions in April 1945, at Tendola, Italy.
- Pvt. Shizuya Hayashi, 100th Infantry Battalion, for actions on Nov. 29, 1943, at Cerasuolo, Italy.
- Tech. Sgt. Yeiki Kobashigawa, 100th Infantry Battalion, for action on June 2, 1944, at Lanuvio, Italy.
- Staff Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on Oct. 20, 1944, at Bruyeres, France (posthumous).
- Pfc. Kaoru Moto, 100th Infantry Battalion, for actions on July 7, 1944, at Castellina, Italy (posthumous).
- Pfc. Kiyoshi K. Muranaga, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on June 26, 1944, at Suvereto, Italy (posthumous).
- Pvt. Masato Nakae, 100th Infantry Battalion, for actions on August 19, 1944, at Pisa, Italy (posthumous).
- Pvt. Shinyei Nakamine, 100th Infantry Battalion, for actions on June 2, 1944, at La Torreto, Italy (posthumous).
- Pfc. William K. Nakamura, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on July 4, 1944, at Castellina, Italy (posthumous).
- Pfc. Joe M. Nishimoto, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on Nov. 7, 1944, at La Houssiere, France (posthumous).
- Sgt. (later Staff Sgt.) Allan M. Ohata, 100th Infantry Battalion, for actions in November 1943 at Cerasuolo, Italy.
- Tech. Sgt. Yukio Okutsu, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on April 7, 1945, at Mount Belvedere, Italy.
- Pfc. Frank H. Ono, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on July 4, 1944, at Castellina, Italy (posthumous).
- Staff Sgt. Kazuo Otani, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on July 15, 1944, at Pieve di S. Luce, Italy (posthumous).
- Pvt. George T. Sakato, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on Oct. 29, 1944, in Biffointaine, France.
- Tech. Sgt. Ted T. Tanouye, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for actions on July 7, 1944, at Molina a Ventoabbto, Italy (posthumous).
- Capt. Francis B. Wai, 34th Infantry, for actions on Oct. 20, 1944, at Leyte, Philippine Islands (posthumous).
A 22nd Medal of Honor was favorably considered for another Japanese American, James Okubo, under a separate provision of the law. The decoration can't be formally approved, however, until Congress waives the statutory time restriction in his specific case, Army officials noted.
A former Army medic, Okubo was originally recommended for the Medal of Honor but his command gave him the Silver Star Medal in the mistaken belief that was the highest award allowed. Okubo was cited for extraordinary heroism in several separate actions near Biffontaine in October and November 1944 in which he saved the lives of fellow 442nd soldiers while exposing himself to intense enemy fire.