A half-century after theirList of winners By Gregg K. Kakesako
wartime valor, 21 receive
the nation's highest award
On a ridge overlooking the Italian town of San Terenzo in April 1945, Lt. Daniel K. Inouye's boyhood dream of becoming a doctor died.
There Inouye lost his right arm when a German rifle grenade smashed his right elbow.
He received a Distinguished Service Cross for disabling three enemy machine-gun nests that day and spent two years in an Army hospital before being discharged as a captain.
Now, more than half a century late, Inouye and 20 other Asian Americans will receive the Medal of Honor -- America's highest award for valor. Only seven are still alive.
Among the recipients are 18 of Inouye's Japanese-American comrades from the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Of the remaining recipients of the sky-blue ribboned medal, one was Chinese Hawaiian and the other, Randolph Davila, is Filipino Spanish American and still alive.
Former Staff Sgt. Davila of Vista, Calif., saved 130 riflemen at Anzio in 1943 serving with the 7th Infantry in Europe. He was later promoted to second lieutenant.
The 21 soldiers -- the end product of a three-year selection process -- will join the two other Asian Americans who received the prestigious award a half-century ago. The 21 were picked from a list of 104 soldiers who received the Distinguished Service Cross. They will be recognized at a White House ceremony June 21.
In 1996, Congress approved legislation that waived the time limit for awarding World War II medals. Only the president can award the Medal of Honor.
Barney Hajiro, 83, was first recommended for the Medal of Honor and the British Victoria Cross in 1944 after his unit rescued a Texas unit -- the "Lost Battalion" -- in the forests of France.
Hajiro, who single-handedly destroyed two German machine gun nests in that battle, was the first 442nd RCT member nominated for a Medal of Honor, but it took more than a half-century and special congressional legislation to get the prestigious award.
"I nearly gave up hope," said Hajiro, who was wounded several times in combat. "Two years ago, they said it was going to happen, but nothing came and I almost gave up hope."
After he was informed personally by Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, Hajiro said: "I feel proud for the Japanese Americans."
Inouye, 75, also was told of his award by Caldera yesterday.
"I am deeply grateful to my nation for this extraordinary award," said Inouye, the first Japanese American elected to Congress.
"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."
Yukio Okutsu, of Hilo, said he was "speechless" after he talked with Caldera. "I heard it might be coming, but I didn't really expect it."
Okutsu, who comes from a Big Island family of 10 brothers and sisters, said there are at least 18 immediate relatives who would like to attend next month's White House awards ceremony. He doesn't know how many kinfolk the military will allow him to bring.
"This going to be the highlight of my life," said Okutsu, 79, who destroyed two machine-gun nests and captured a third at Mount Belvedere in Italy in 1945.
Shizuya Hayashi, 82, said he was shocked after getting a call from Caldera.
Facts about the Medal of Honor:
First awarded: Feb. 13, 1861, to Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard Irwin for rescuing 60 soldiers
Awarded to date: 3,429
Living recipients: 147
First World War II award: Dec. 7, 1941, to Lt. John Finn at Kaneohe Bay. Fourteen more sailors earned the Medals of Honor at Pearl Harbor, 10 of them posthumously.
Last action where medal was awarded: Oct. 3, 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia, to Gary Gordon and Randall Shugart
21 Asian Americans had medals upgraded yesterday to the Medal of Honor. The upgrades came after passage of a law sponsored by Hawaii's Sen. Daniel Akaka in 1996. Some facts on the recipients:
Killed in action: 11
Japanese Americans: 19
Hawaiian Chinese American: 1
Filipino Spanish American: 1
Total World War II Medals of Honor: 462
"I didn't think it was going to happen," said Hayashi, who was drafted in March 1941 into the ranks of the 100th Battalion and believes he may be one of the oldest members of the unit still living.
"I still remember that day and the battle," said the Pearl City veteran. "We were cut off in a minefield. There were mines all around. I remember a sniper bullet passing by my neck. . . . A lot of boys got hit in that minefield. It was a rough time."
It was on that Italian battlefield in 1943 that Hayashi in a charge killed 20 Germans and took four prisoners.
Another recipient is infantry Capt. Francis Wai, a Chinese Hawaiian who was a stellar football player at Punahou School and UCLA.
His brother, Lambert Wai, said yesterday that Wai was killed in 1944 storming a beachhead at Leyte with the Army's 34th Division during Gen. Douglas MacArthur's liberation of the Philippines.
"It's kind of exciting and kind of sad," Lambert Wai said. "He was a good man ... a good leader. When this happens, it brings back a lot of memories."
Fifty-five years ago, Inouye was leading a platoon of the 442nd's 2nd Battalion when it came under fire. Crawling up the hill, Inouye was hit by machine-gun fire as he was about to toss a hand grenade.
He was knocked down but managed to get up, pull the pin and get within five yards of the nearest of three machine-gun emplacements. After taking out the nest and killing its gunners, Inouye -- wounded and bleeding from his stomach -- staggered up the hill and threw two more grenades into the second nest.
As he approached the third emplacement, his right elbow was smashed by a rifle grenade. With his left hand, Inouye tossed his grenade into the enemy position, destroying it.
He also continued firing with his Thompson submachine gun. Hit in the right leg, Inouye refused to be evacuated until his platoon redeployed in a defensive position.
Twenty-five enemy troops were killed and eight were captured by Inouye.
His Distinguished Service Cross was one of 52 awarded to the 100th Battalion and the 442nd as the unit achieved the distinction of being the most decorated for its size and length of service in American military history.
Army historians were directed by a federal law penned by Sen. Daniel Akaka in 1996 to correct possible omissions in awarding the Medal of Honor to Asian and Pacific Island Americans. The law was patterned after a similar attempt and three-year study in 1993 which led to seven black Americans' Distinguished Service Crosses and Navy Crosses being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
In August 1996, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif., was contracted to do a $50,000 review. James McNaughton, chief Army historian there, said they came up with the names of 104 soldiers, but no sailors or Marines qualified following a Navy review of 3,400 records.
Forty-seven Japanese Americans, one Chinese American, one Filipino American and one Korean American were on that list. Fifty-four Filipinos, who were nationals of the United States, also were identified as receiving the DSCs.
The Senior Army Decorations Board held deliberations from May 1997 to Jan. 29, 1999. It cut the list to 21 and sent the names to the secretary of the army.
Defense Secretary William Cohen sent the final review to the White House in December.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society reported that there have been 10 previous Asian-American or Pacific-Islander Medal of Honor recipients. Six Hawaii residents were awarded the medal posthumously -- one during World War II, two in the Korean War and three in Vietnam.
In World War II, two Asian Americans received the Medal of Honor. Army Private First Class Sadao Munemori, of Los Angeles, was posthumously presented the medal for his achievements as an assistant squad leader in the 442nd RCT's Company A, 3rd Battalion, during the Po Valley Campaign in Italy.
The other recipient was Sgt. Jose Calugas, a member of the Philippine Scouts, who on Jan. 16, 1942, took over an artillery battery on Bataan after its crew had been killed or wounded. He retired as a captain and died in February 1998.
Also pending before Congress is another special congressional request advanced by Akaka which will award the Medal of Honor to Tech. Sgt. James Okubo, a 442nd medic, who was supposed to get the prestigious award until the honor was downgraded to a Silver Star because he was a medic.
Okubo, a dentist in California, died in a car crash in 1967. His medal is for saving the lives of fellow soldiers while exposing himself to enemy fire.
More than 45,000 Asian and Pacific Island Americans served in World War II. Of that number, 25,000 were Japanese Americans. The Army estimates that 258,000 Asian Americans were living on the mainland and another 300,000 were residents of Hawaii at that time.
In the Philippines, more than 100,000 served in the Philippine Army, part of the U.S. forces under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Another 12,000 served in the Philippine Scouts, part of the regular Army. After the fall of Bataan, thousands more fought with the guerrillas.
In the United States, 12,000 men of Filipino descent enlisted in the Army. During World War II, the Army awarded Filipino soldiers 55 DSCs and one Medal of Honor.
World War II heroism of 21 Asian Americans is recognized
Twenty-one Asian Americans today will receive the Medal of Honor for their World War II exploits.
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Seven still living1st. Lt. Daniel Inouye: E Company. 2nd Battalion. 442nd RCT. April 20, 1945. (Hawaii) Near Mount Nebbione, Italy. Attacked three German machine gun nests. Wounded three times. Killed 25 Germans. Captured 8 others.
Private 1st Class Barney Hajiro: I Company, 3rd Battalion, 442nd RCT. Oct. 29, 1944. France. (Hawaii) Led the third and last assault in the rescue attempt to save "Lost Battalion" from Texas.
Pvt. Shizuya Hayashi: A Company. 100th Battalion. Nov. 29, 1943. Cerasuolo, Italy. (Hawaii) Charged a machine gun position, killing 20 enemy soldiers and taking four prisoners.
2nd Lt. Yeiki Kobashigawa: B Company. 100th Battalion. June 26, 1944. Lanuvlo, Italy. (Hawaii) Led his squad as it attacked a house, silencing a machine gun nest and later capturing 20 enemy soldiers.
Tech. Sgt. Yukio Okutsu. F Company. 442nd RCT. April 7, 1945. Mount Belvedere, Italy. (Hilo). Wiped out two machine gun nests and captured a third, taking four prisoners.
Pvt. George Sakato. 442nd RCT. Oct. 29, 1944. Biffontaine, France. (Denver). His squad pinned down, he rose and led a charge that destroyed a German stronghold.
Staff Sgt. Randolph Davila. 7th Infantry.Third Army. Vista, Calif. May 28, 1944. Artena, Italy. Single-handedly saved 130 riflemen by silencing several machine guns.
14 DeceasedCapt. Francis Brown Wai: 34th Division. Oct. 20, 1944. Philippines. (Hawaii) Killed while leading the final beach assault at Leyte.
Staff Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda. H. Company. 442nd RCT. Oct. 20, 1944. Bruyeres, France. (Hawaii). Killed by a sniper while rescuing a party of litter bearers removing wounded soldiers.
Private 1st Class Frank Ono. G Company. 442nd RCT. July 4, 1944. Cecina, Italy. (Hawaii). Helped in capturing Hill 140. Took out a machine gun nest, killed a sniper and helped rescue a wounded leader.
Private 1st Class Kaoru Moto. C Company. 100th Battalion. July 7, 1944. Castellina, Italy. (Maui) Attacked a machine gun nest, took a prisoner and then captured a house used as an observation post. Wounded, he continued to defend the position from being retaken by the Germans.
Private 1st Class Kiyoshi Muranaga. F Company. 2nd Battalion. 442nd RCT. June 26, 1944. Suvereto, Italy. (Hawaii) Manning a 60mm mortar alone, he produced such accurate and intense fire that the enemy's anti-personnel and anti-tank 88mm gun withdrew. He was the 442nd's first DSC hero and the unit's first fatality.
Private 1st Class Masato "Curly" Nakae. A Company. 100th Battalion. Aug. 19, 1944. Pisa, Italy. (Hawaii) Defending an outpost position, Nakae held back a probe by German forces.
Pvt. Shinyei Nakamine. B Company 100th Battalion. June 2, 1944. La Torreto, Italy. (Hawaii) Killed while attacking machine gun nests.
Pvt. Joe Hayashi. K. Company. 442nd RCT. April 22, 1945. Tendola, Italy. (Hawaii). Killed while knocking out two machine guns.
Private 1st Class William Nakamura. G Company. 2nd Battalion. 442nd RCT. July 4, 1944. Castellina, Italy. (Seattle) Attacked a machine gun nest that pinned down his platoon and later was killed as he held off other enemy gunners who attacked his platoon as it tried to withdraw.
Staff Sgt. Allan Ohata. B Company. 100th Battalion. Nov. 25, 1943. Cerasuolo, Italy. (Hawaii) In a fight with German soldiers, Ohata and another soldier killed 27 Germans, wounding one and taking another prisoner. A little later, the enemy attacked again; four soldiers were killed and three were wounded.
Pvt. Mikio Hasemoto. B. Company. 100th Battalion. Nov. 23, 1943. Cerasuolo, Italy. (Hawaii) Killed fighting with Ohata. Responsible for killing 27 Germans in one battle and four in another.
Staff Sgt. Kazuo Otani. G Company. 2nd Battalion. 442nd RCT. July 15, 1944. (Visalia, Calif.) Pieve di S. Luce, Italy. Drew enemy fire while covering the advancement of his platoon which had been pinned down. After organizing to defend against a counterattack, he helped a wounded soldier and was killed while dressing his wounds.
Private 1st Class Joe Nishimoto. G. Company, 442nd RCT. Nov. 7, 1944. La Houssiere, France. (Fresno, Calif.) Killed in action eight days after being responsible for breaking a three-day stalemate.
Tech. Sgt. Ted Tanouye. K Company. 442nd RCT. July 7, 1944. Molina A Ventoabbto, Italy. (Hawaii). Wounded in the battle to take Hill 140, Tanouye stayed through several firefights. He later died of his wounds.
Gregg K. Kakesako, Star-Bulletin