World War II

Army Secretary Lionizes 22 World War II Heroes

War World II Heroes

Pvt. Barney Hajiro

Tech. Sgt. James Okubo

Pfc. Kiyoshi Muranaga

Pvt. Mikio Hasemoto

Pvt. Shizuya Hayashi

Tech. Sgt. Yeiki Kobashigawa

Pfc. Kaoru Moto

Pvt. Masato Nakae

Pvt. Shinyei Nakamine

Pfc. William K. Nakamura

Staff Sgt. Allan M. Ohata

Staff Sgt. Kazuo Otani

Tech. Sgt. Ted T. Tanouye

Pvt. Joe Hayashi

Pfc. Joe M. Nishimoto

Tech. Sgt. Yukio Okutsu

Pfc. Frank H. Ono

Pvt. George T. Sakato

First Lt. Daniel K. Inouye

Second Lt.
Rudolph B. Davila


Staff Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda

Capt. Francis B. Wai

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
Photos Courtesy Individual Families

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."

Photo - Pvt. Barney F. HajiroThe 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.
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Photo - Tech. Sgt. James K. OkuboCaldera said America should never forgetTech. 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."
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Photo - 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.
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Pvt. Mikio Hasemoto,100th Infantry Battalion, distinguished himself on Nov. 29, 1943, near Cerasuolo, Italy. About 40 enemy soldiers armed with machine guns, machine pistols, rifles and grenades attacked the left flank of his platoon. When two enemy machine gunners advanced on him, Hasemoto, an automatic rifleman, challenged them, firing four magazines before his weapon was hit and damaged. He ran 10 yards to the rear, secured another automatic rifle and continued to fire until his weapon jammed.

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.
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Photo Pvt. Shizuya HayashiPvt. Shizuya Hayashi,100th Infantry Battalion, was cited for heroism on Nov. 29, 1943, near Cerasuolo, Italy. During a flank assault on high ground held by the enemy, he rose alone in the face of grenade, rifle and machine gun fire. Firing his automatic rifle from the hip, he charged an enemy machine gun, killing seven enemy in the nest and two more as they fled. The platoon then advanced about 200 yards when an enemy anti-aircraft gun opened fire on the men. Hayashi returned fire, killing nine enemy soldiers, capturing four and forcing the others to flee.
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Tech. Sgt. Yeiki Kobashigawa,100th Infantry Battalion, distinguished himself in action on June 2, 1944, near Lanuvio, Italy. During an attack, his platoon encountered strong enemy resistance from a series of machine guns. Observing a nest about 50 yards away, he crawled forward with one of his men, threw a grenade and then charged the enemy with his submachine gun while a fellow soldier provided covering fire. He killed one enemy soldier and captured two prisoners.

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.
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Photo - Pfc. Kaoru MotoPfc. Kaoru Moto,100th Infantry Battalion, distinguished himself on July 7, 1944, near Castellina, Italy. While serving as first scout, Moto observed a machine gun nest that was impeding his platoon. Making his way to within 10 paces of the hostile position, he killed the enemy gunner, but came under fire from the assistant gunner. Crawling to the rear of the position, Moto surprised the enemy soldier, who quickly surrendered.

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.
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Photo - Pvt. Massato NakaePvt. Masato Nakae,100th Infantry Battalion, was cited for heroism on Aug. 19, 1944, near Pisa, Italy. When his submachine gun was damaged by a shell fragment during a fierce attack, Nakae quickly picked up a wounded comrade's M-1 rifle and fired rifle grenades at the steadily advancing enemy. He also threw six grenades and forced the enemy to withdraw. Seriously wounded by shrapnel during an enemy mortar barrage, Nakae refused to surrender his position and continued firing at the advancing enemy. He inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, breaking up the attack and causing the enemy to withdraw.
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Photo - Pvt. Shinyei NakaminePvt. Shinyei Nakamine,100th Infantry Battalion, received the Medal of Honor for valor June 2, 1944, near La Torreto, Italy. When his platoon was pinned down by intense machine gun crossfire, Nakamine crawled within 25 yards of one position and then charged it firing his submachine gun, killing three enemy soldiers and capturing two.

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.
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Photo - Pfc. William K. NakamuraPfc. William K. Nakamura, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, distinguished himself in action on July 4, 1944, near Castellina, Italy. During a fierce firefight, his platoon was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire from a concealed position. Nakamura crawled about 20 yards toward the hostile nest with enemy machine gun fire barely missing him. When he was about 15 yards from the enemy's position, he quickly raised to a kneeling position and blasted the nest with a hail of hand grenades.

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.
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Photo - Staff Sgt. Allan M. OhataStaff Sgt. Allan M. Ohata,100th Infantry Battalion, was cited for heroism on Nov. 29 and 30, 1943, near Cerasuolo, Italy. Ohata, his squad leader and three other men were ordered to protect their platoon's left flank against an attacking force of 40 men, armed with machine guns, machine pistols and rifles. He posted an automatic rifleman 15 yards to his left, and together the team delivered effective fire against the enemy. The automatic rifleman called for assistance when his weapon was shot and damaged.

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.
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Photo - Staff Sgt. Kazuo OtaniStaff Sgt. Kazuo Otani,442nd Regimental Combat Team, was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism on July 15, 1944, near Pieve Di S. Luce, Italy. Otani's platoon was attacking a hill when pinned down in a wheat field by concentrated fire from enemy machine gun and sniper fire. Realizing the danger confronting his platoon, Otani left his cover and killed a sniper who was firing with deadly effect upon his men. Then, followed by a steady stream of machine gun bullets, he dashed across the open field toward the cover of a base of a cliff. Directing his men to crawl to the safety of his position, he decoyed enemy gunners as they opened fire on the advancing GIs.

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.
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Photo - Tech. Sgt. Ted T. TanouyeTech. Sgt. Ted T. Tanouye, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on July 7, 1944, near Molino A Ventoabbto, Italy. Tanouye led his platoon in an attack to capture the crest of a strategically important hill that afforded little cover or concealment. Noticing an enemy crew placing a machine gun to his left front, Tanouye crept forward and opened fire, killing or wounding three and causing two others to flee. An enemy soldier immediately opened fire on him with a machine pistol, but missed. Tanouye returned the fire and killed or wounded three more enemy soldiers.

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.
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Photo - Pvt. Joe HayashiPvt. Joe Hayashi,442nd Regimental Combat Team, was presented the Medal of Honor for gallantry on April 20 and 22, 1945, near Tendola, Italy. Ordered to attack a strongly defended hill that commanded all approaches to the village of Tendola, Hayashi led his men to a point within 75 yards of enemy positions before they were
detected and fired upon. After dragging his wounded comrades to safety, he returned alone and exposed himself to small arms fire in order to direct and adjust mortar fire against hostile emplacements.

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.
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Photo - Pfc. Joe M. NishimotoPfc. Joe M. Nishimoto,442nd Regimental Combat Team, was cited for heroism on Nov. 7, 1944, near La Houssiere, France. After three days of unsuccessful attempts by his company to dislodge the enemy from a strongly defended ridge, Nishimoto, as acting squad leader, crawled forward through a heavily mined and booby-trapped area. Spotting a machine gun nest, he hurled a grenade and destroyed it.

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.
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Photo - Tech. Sgt. Yukio OkutsuTech. Sgt. Yukio Okutsu,442nd Regimental Combat Team, distinguished himself in April 1945 on Mount Belvedere, Italy. While his platoon was halted by the crossfire of three machine guns, Okutsu crawled through heavy fire to within 30 yards of one emplacement and destroyed it with two hand grenades. Crawling and dashing from cover-to-cover, he silencing a second machine gun with a grenade and then advanced on the third through heavy small arms fire when he was stunned momentarily by glancing rifle fire off his helmet.

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.
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Photo - Pfc. Frank H. OnoPfc. Frank H. Ono,442nd Regimental Combat Team, was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor on July 4,1944, near Castellina, Italy. In attacking a heavily defended hill, Ono's squad was caught in a hail of fire from well entrenched enemy soldiers. Ono opened fire with his automatic rifle and silenced one machine gun 300 hundred yards to his front.

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.
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Photo - Pvt. George T. SakatoPvt. George T. Sakato,442nd Regimental Combat Team, distinguished himself in action on Oct. 29, 1944, near Biffontaine, France. After his platoon destroyed two enemy defense lines, during which Sakato killed five enemy soldiers and captured four, the unit was pinned down by heavy enemy fire. Disregarding the enemy assault, he made a one-man rush that encouraged his platoon to charge and destroy the enemy stronghold.

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.
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Photo-First Lt. Daniel InouyeFirst Lt. Daniel K. Inouye,now a U.S. senator, was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism on April 21, 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Inouye directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapons and small arms fire to capture an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. The enemy, emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns.

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.
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Second Lt. Rudolph B. Davila,7th Infantry, was honored for heroism on May 28, 1944, near Artena, Italy. During the offensive that broke through the German mountain strongholds surrounding the Anzio beachhead, (then staff sergeant) Davila risked death to provide heavy weapons support for a beleaguered rifle company.

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.
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Photo - Staff Sgt. Robert T. KurodaStaff Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda,442nd Regimental Combat Team, earned his Medal of Honor on Oct. 20, 1944, near Bruyeres, France. While leading his men in an effort to eliminate snipers and machine gun nests, Kuroda encountered heavy enemy machine gun fire from a heavily wooded slope. Unable to pinpoint the nest, he maneuvered under fire toward the crest of the ridge and located it. He then advanced to within 10 yards of the nest and killed three enemy gunners with grenades. He fired all his rifle ammunition, killing or wounding at least another three of them.

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.
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Photo - Capt. Francis B. WaiCapt. Francis B. Wai,34th Infantry, was honoredfor valor on Oct. 20, 1944, at Leyte, the Philippines. Wai landed at Red Beach, Leyte, in the face of accurate, concentrated enemy fire from gun positions in a palm grove bounded by submerged rice paddies. Finding the first four waves leaderless, disorganized and pinned down on the open beach, he immediately assumed command.

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.