Wednesday, September 30, 1998

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye is pictured with the medals he
won in World War II. Inouye is among the Asian-American
veterans being considered for the Medal of Honor

Asian Americans
get consideration for
Medal of Honor

A military review panel
should receive the report on
more than 100 World War II
veterans today

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Twenty-one Japanese-Americans from Hawaii, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, are among more than 100 World War II veterans being considered for the nation's highest military award: the Medal of Honor.

Also being considered is Army Capt. Francis B. Wai, a 1936 Punahou graduate and a standout on its football, baseball and track teams. Wai, the only Chinese-American to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by the Army, was killed Oct. 20, 1944, while leading the final assault on the beachhead at Leyte, the Philippines, while serving with the 34th Infantry.

Inouye won a Distinguished Service Cross for leading his platoon through heavy automatic weapons fire to capture an enemy artillery and mortar observation post in Italy in 1945, and his right arm was shattered by a grenade.

A team at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., today completed study on the matter and has forwarded its work to a military review panel.

It will be up to the Army Personnel Command to determine whether any of these Asian Americans will have their Distinguished Service Crosses upgraded.

Shari Lawrence, spokeswoman for the Army Personnel Command in Washington, D.C., said she can't release names since the matter is still "in a pending status."

She said the review by a senior decorations board composed of Army officers ranked colonel and above "could take several months."

Of more than 60,000 World War II Asian-American and Pacific Islander soldiers, only one -- Pfc. Sadao Munemori of Los Angeles -- won the Medal of Honor. Munemori saved two of his comrades in Italy when he threw himself on a grenade.

But it took intense pressure from a Utah senator in 1946 before Munemori received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Sen. Daniel Akaka and others believe that despite the record of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- the Army unit composed mainly of Japanese Americans -- anti-Japanese sentiment prevented the nisei soldiers from getting fair recognition.

The 100th and the 442nd earned 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 9,468 Purple Hearts and eight Presidential Unit citations. No American units received more decorations in that war.

Their casualty toll -- 650 killed and 9,486 wounded -- was the highest percentage of any Army unit.

James C. McNaughton, head of Monterey's command history office, has worked for 24 months on the $500,000 study, which was ordered by Congress under a law authored by Akaka.

He said the records of more than 100 Asian and Pacific Island American soldiers were forwarded and half of them were members of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Fifty-two soldiers of the 100th and 442nd earned the country's second highest award for valor fighting in Europe. One Asian American from the Military Intelligence Service, another unit mainly made up of Japanese Americans, received the same award in the Pacific.

"We are able to quantify 47 of the 52 soldiers did earn the DSC," McNaughton said.

Fifty Filipino Americans also were recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross, McNaughton added, and their names were sent to the decorations review board.

Retired Army Col. Young O. Kim of Los Angeles, who served with the 100th Battalion, is the only Korean American confirmed as a winner of the Distinguished Service Cross.

A total of 301 Medals of Honor and about 4,770 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded by the Army during World War II.

Although Akaka's law limited the review to the Army, McNaughton said the Navy believes there are not any Asian Americans who should have their Navy Cross upgraded.

Since the Medal of Honor was created by Congress during the Civil War, 3,400 have been awarded.

Akaka's legislation was patterned on a similar review of the military records of African Americans.

During World War II, nine African Americans received the Distinguished Service Cross. Following a review and selection process, seven black veterans were honored with the nation's highest award by President Clinton.

Intelligence next for
Army historian

By Gregg K. Kakesako


With the medal study finished, Army historian James McNaughton now will turn his attention to completing the history of the Military Intelligence Service.

The unit was made up mostly of Japanese Americans who served as linguists, interpreters and translators in World War II.

Until recently, most of the work of the 6,000 Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland in the unit was classified. They worked in small teams, through the allied island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific to the battle for Okinawa in 1945.

Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, intelligence chief of staff for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, said, "The nisei saved countless allied lives and shortened the war by two years."

McNaughton has been working since 1994 on the Army's official history of the Military Intelligence Service, generated by legislation by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

"I should be able to get it done before the end of September 1999," he said.

Nisei members of the Military Intelligence Service translated a document retrieved from a beach in Tulagi, across the channel from Guadalcanal, which revealed the call sign and code names for every warship in the Japanese fleet, as well as the call sign of each naval air squadron and air station.

A message intercepted by one of the unit's soldiers led to the downing of a plane over the Solomon Islands that was carrying Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, chief of the Japanese naval fleet and architect of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Deciphering messages and documents weren't the only tasks the nisei soldiers did. They also operated in Burma with Merrill's Marauders -- jungle-fighting infantrymen under Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill -- and helped coax Japanese soldiers and civilians holed-up in caves on Saipan and Okinawa to surrender.

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