Long before Hawaii became a state, men from the island territory joined the United States military, including during World War II and the Korean War. One of Hawaii's native sons, Army Pfc. Anthony Kaho'ohanohano, fought in the latter conflict. His brave solo stand against an overwhelming enemy force led to his death, but it also earned him the Medal of Honor.
Kaho'ohanohano was born on Maui, Hawaii, on July 22, 1930. He grew to be a tall kid and was known by several of his siblings to be a quiet guardian to them. He loved swimming, going to the ocean and playing basketball.
Service was important to the family. Kaho'ohanohano's father had served in the military and was a dedicated police officer. His five brothers joined the military when they were old enough, and Kaho'ohanohano did the same. He enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard after high school.
On Feb. 5, 1951, several months after the Korean War began, he joined the regular Army. Kaho'ohanohano was assigned to Company H of the 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division based in Korea.
In August 1951, his unit was deployed to the front lines of the war. By the end of that month, an operation known as the Battle of Chup'a-ri was launched. Over the next several days, Kaho'ohanohano's unit fought for strategic hills in action that would shape the course of the war.
On Sept. 1, 1951, Kaho'ohanohano was in charge of a machine gun squad that was supporting his company’s defensive position when a large enemy force attacked. The Americans were overwhelmed, so they started to retreat. Kaho'ohanohano ordered his squad to fall back, too, and find more defensible positions so they could provide cover for the retreating men.
Kaho'ohanohano had been hit in the shoulder during the attack, but he chose to stay behind as his men moved to safety. He gathered up as much ammunition and as many grenades as he could find, then went back to his original position to face the enemy alone.
The North Koreans were determined to overrun his position, but he wasn't about to give it up easily. Kaho'ohanohano blasted the onrushing enemy with machine gun fire and grenades. When he ran out of both, he grabbed the only weapon he had left — a shovel — and fought his aggressors one on one until there were too many for him to handle. The position was overrun, and Kaho'ohanohano was killed.
When his unit heard about his heroic stand, they were inspired. The company launched a counterattack that was eventually able to repel the enemy soldiers.
When Kaho'ohanohano's fellow soldiers found his body, they were amazed by what they found with it: 11 enemy soldiers lay dead in front of his position, while two others that the 21-year-old had fought in hand-to-hand combat lay dead beside him. Kaho'ohanohano's machine gun had fired so many times that its barrel was bent.
For his selfless actions, Kaho'ohanohano was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military honor. But his family and many in his community thought he deserved more. So, after decades of petitioning for a higher honor from World War II veterans and fellow Hawaiians, U.S. Sens. Danny Akaka and Dan Inouye, it was decided the award would be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
On May 2, 2011, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Kaho'ohanohano's sister, Elaine, and brother, Eugene, at a White House ceremony. Nearly 30 more members of Kaho'ohanohano's family attended, as did several Korean War veterans.
"Kaho'ohanohano will always be remembered for the lone assault that saved his comrades, and then inspired their counterattack," Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said at a ceremony at the Pentagon the day after the White House presentation. "His last words — reportedly, 'I've got your back,' — are a creed our soldiers carry with them today whenever they go into harm’s way."
Kaho'ohanohano's spirit lives on in his native Hawaii. A National Guard armory was named for him in the village of Puunene on his home island of Maui.
This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.