Friday, October 15, 2004

Barney Hajiro, right, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, received the Legion of Honor medal yesterday from Federic Desagneaux, French consul general from San Francisco, at a ceremony aboard the French navy frigate Prairial at Pier 9 at Honolulu Harbor. Behind is Patricia Lee, honorary consul of France.

France honors
isle hero

A 442nd veteran receives yet
another medal for valor

In 1945, Barney Hajiro was passed over for the Medal of Honor. Since then the World War II veteran has become one of the most decorated members of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Fifty-six years ago he received the British Military Medal, one of England's top honors. He has also been awarded two Purple Hearts. And in 2001, more than a half-century after his discharge and with the help of special congressional legislation, Hajiro finally did receive the Medal of Honor in a Washington, D.C., service attended by President Clinton.


Barney Hajiro

Last night, Hajiro, 89, added one more prestigious medal to his collection.

In a ceremony aboard a French military ship docked at Pier 9, Hajiro was awarded the French Legion of Honor. The award -- the highest order of medals given by the French government -- gives him a title similar to knight.

"This is for the boys, eh?" Hajiro said last night before the awards ceremony. "We fought together. It was teamwork, not individual. We all fought in the battle."

Hajiro, of Waipahu, is one of the 100 American World War II veterans nationwide who have received the French award this year in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

Most received their medals this June at a gathering in France, but Hajiro was unable to travel, so the French government brought the ceremony to him.

"He already has several medals," said Federic Desagneaux, the consul general of France in San Francisco. "We thought it was our duty to recognize him."

Last night's ceremony was on the French military surveillance ship Prairial, which came into harbor yesterday from Tahiti and is expected to be in port until Tuesday. Many of the more than 200 who attended were members of the 442nd, including Waialua resident Mutt Sakumoto.

The medal "was long overdue," said Sakumoto, who fought alongside Hajiro in Europe.

Hajiro, a son of Japanese immigrants who earned 10 cents an hour in Maui's sugar cane fields, quit school after eighth grade to help his family of 11. He was drafted in 1942 and sent overseas with the 442nd a year later.

The battle for which Hajiro received his awards occurred in October 1944 when the 442nd rescued a Texas unit, the so-called "Lost Battalion," that had been cut off by the enemy near the French border with Germany. His platoon and others attacked the Germans head-on.

Armed with only an automatic rifle, Hajiro killed two German snipers and soldiers manning two machine guns before he was wounded in the arm, face and wrist by a third machine gun. Earlier in the attack, he had acted as a sentry to direct troops.

At the end of the mission, the 442nd had saved 211 Texans but sustained 800 casualties.

"We rescued the Texas boys," Hajiro said yesterday, adding that he is proud of his service. "I want the American people to realize that Japanese people fought in World War II. ... I like to show that Japanese Americans have something."

Desagneaux, who flew in for the event, pinned the Legion of Honor on Hajiro and said the veteran was chosen for the award "because of his courage, his heroism."

"We'll not forget your sacrifice," Desagneaux told Hajiro during the ceremony. "It is time for France to recognize ... your dedication, your history."

Patricia Lee, a University of Hawaii regent and honorary consul of France in Honolulu, said France has long considered Hajiro for the award.

"We're rather late," she added, "but proud to do it at this time."



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