A place of honor
The Army's isle Gallery of Heroes welcomes four Distinguished Service Cross recipients
FOUR World War II members of the 100th Battalion awarded the Distinguished Service Cross will be inducted into the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii's Gallery of Heroes on March 8.
The honorees are Pfc. Kiichi Koda, who received the country's second-highest medal for his valor near Castellina, Italy, in 1944; Staff Sgt. Itsumu Sasaoka for action in battle near Belmont, France, in 1944; Cpl. Masaru Suehiro for heroism near Cerasuolo, Italy, in 1943; and Pfc. Robert H. Yasutake for his valor near Lanuvio, Italy, in 1944.
Since the Gallery of Heroes was conceived in 1980 at Fort DeRussy, 21 Medal of Honor and 51 Distinguished Service Cross recipients have been inducted. Of the 51 Distinguished Service Cross winners, 29 are from World War II, 17 from the Korean War and five from Vietnam War.
GALLERY OF HEROES INDUCTEES
MEDAL OF HONOR
» World War II: 13
» Korea: 2
» Vietnam: 6
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
» World War II: 29
» Korea: 17
» Vietnam: 5
Koda and Sasaoka were killed in action in 1944. Sasaoka is still listed as missing in action and was awarded the DSC for his action in a battle near Belmont in France, leading to the effort to find a battalion of Texas soldiers who were cut off.
Koda was killed in Italy in July 1944.
Koda, Sasaoka and Suehiro were all assigned to Company A, while Yasutake was a member of Company C.
The unveiling of the soldiers' portraits, which will hang in the gallery following the ceremony, will be done by museum president and retired Army Gen. David Bramlett with the help of members of the awardees' families.
Like many of the soldiers of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- two Army units that were composed mainly of second-generation Japanese Americans -- Yasutake, who was born in Paauilo on the Big Island, never talked about his war experiences.
"We never knew where he got wounded," said his daughter, Eileen Bali, who will represent her father. "But he loved to watch war movies."
Yasutake's family had moved to Lahaina before the war broke out and Bali said her father volunteered to join the 100th Battalion.
Pfc. Yasutake was cited for heroism on June 2, 1944, while serving as an automatic rifleman during an attack by the Germans near Lanuvio in Italy.
His Distinguished Service Cross citation says that Yasutake's squad and another on his right flank were pinned down by enemy fire: "He (Yasutake) crawled to a position from which he opened fire and neutralized a hostile machine gun nest."
Yasutake then moved to the edge of a ravine and single-handedly attacked another German crew using his rifle and throwing hand grenades, wounding seven German soldiers.
The citation said Yasutake continued to ward off German soldiers and in one instance killed three enemy soldiers who attacked his position.
Bali said the family lived in Lahaina after the war, where her father worked as a carpenter, before they moved to Honolulu in 1958. Yasutake died in 1996.
"He was such a humble man," said Bali. "He never wanted people to make a fuss over him."
She recalled that her father also was awarded one of France's highest medal for valor: "It was pinned on him by French President (Charles) De Gaulle."
Edgar Sasaoka said he barely remembers his uncle, who was awarded the DSC on Oct. 22, 1944, in France while serving as a machine gunner.
"I must have been about 10 years old when my mother took us in to town from Waipahu to see him," said Edgar Sasaoka, recalling the last time he saw his uncle. "I think he was in his uniform at the time."
Sgt. Sasaoka's citation said the soldier was part of a task force that was ambushed in the mountains: "Although seriously wounded by the first burst of hostile fire. Sgt. Sasaoka, displaying a disdain for personal safety seldom surpassed, clung to his machine gun and directed a hail of bullets into the enemy positions in a last desperate attempt to prevent other members of his platoon from being subjected to the lethal enemy cross fire."
Pfc. Koda's DSC citation says that on July 9, 1944, near Castellina during the Italian campaign Koda and four other 100th Battalion soldiers charged a German machine gun nest, firing their rifles from their hips. Koda's squad were then ordered to guard a castle.
Koda, according to the citation, was credited with helping to kill 10 enemy soldiers, capturing three prisoners and confiscating five machine guns and four machine pistols.
Koda did this by tossing a grenade into the windows of the castle as he worked his way around the building. Then Koda led his squad into the castle with fixed bayonets before he was killed by a hand grenade.
Representing Koda at the induction ceremony will be his cousin Kazue Kondo.
Cpl. Suehiro was a leader of a 60 mm mortar squad on Nov. 29, 1943, near Cerasuolo in Italy when he directed mortar fire on a German position from an exposed position.
Although he was seriously wounded by shell fragments Suehiro stayed in his hazardous position and continued to direct mortar fire eventually repulsing a German counterattack.
Alan Suehiro, who lives in San Diego, will represent his father next month.