Wednesday, September 15, 1999

AJA medic’s
medal may be

'The late James K. Okubo
of the 442nd is on track for
the Medal of Honor

By Gregg K. Kakesako


NOBUYO Okubo took her two grandchildren to the Smithsonian Institution this summer to see an exhibit tracing the plight of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

There as part of the exhibit was a photo of the grandfather they never knew: Tech. Sgt. James K. Okubo, a medic with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as a litter bearer on the fields of France during one of the most bitter battles of World War II.

"Until then I think they (grandchildren) were too young to understand, and now I think they realize the implications of him being there," she said.


'Mortar and artillery shells
don't discriminate, and it doesn't
matter if you are a medic
and a noncombatant.

Ed Ichiyama


James Okubo was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for combat valor, for rescuing and delivering aid to comrades who were trying to rescue the "Lost Battalion" from Texas over several days in the Vosges forests.

Okubo, who later became a dentist in Detroit, was 47 when he was killed in an auto accident in 1967.

Now a Senior Army Decorations Board has reviewed Okubo's wartime achievements and has recommended that the Silver Star be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

What remains is approval by Secretary of Defense William Cohen and President Clinton and the passage of special congressional legislation to waive the time restrictions on the awarding of the Medal of Honor.

Akaka requested review

Sen. Daniel Akaka, who requested the review of Okubo's records at the urging of the 442nd Veterans Club, said, "It would be highly unusual for the defense secretary or the president to reject a military award recommended by the secretary of the Army and the Senior Army Decorations Board."

With Congress scheduled to adjourn by mid-October, Akaka said it is uncertain whether there is enough time in the current session to get his colleagues to approve the special waiver.

"I am committed to making every effort to ensure that Congress considers a waiver sooner rather than later," Akaka said.


Okubo 'is a shining example
of the sacrifices made by Asian-Pacific
Americans during World War II.'

Daniel Akaka


Nobuyo Okubo, who now lives in Walled Lake, Mich., said, "I can wait patiently."

Okubo said she was "overwhelmed when Sen. Akaka called me on Friday. ... I didn't know what to say.

"I really feel there are lots of other men who did braver things. I had no idea that he could qualify for the Medal of Honor."

Okubo said her husband's family was living in Bellingham, Wash., when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. They were first taken to Tule Lake relocation camp in California and finally relocated to the camp at Hart Mountain in Wyoming.

Risked life for wounded

On May 20, 1943, just 10 days shy of his 23rd birthday, Okubo volunteered for the Army and was sent to Camp Shelby for basic training. He was trained as a medic and was attached to K Company during the fierce campaign against the Germans in France in October 1944.

His commanding officers had put in for a Medal of Honor for Okubo. But the medal was downgraded to a Silver Star. Some said it was because Okubo was just a medic and not eligible for any higher award.

But Ed Ichiyama, a fellow 442nd RCT veteran who helped collect material for a review of Okubo's records, said "mortar and artillery shells don't discriminate, and it doesn't matter if you are a medic and a noncombatant.

"The shells were bursting overhead, and despite all of that, he risked his life to administer to the needs of the wounded."

More may be advanced

At one point, the Silver Star citation said Okubo "used his body to protect wounded men from further injuries" from mortar and grenade bursts.

Several days later, Okubo was credited with saving the life of a wounded soldier by pulling him out of a burning tank, tending to his wounds and then evacuating him.

Akaka described Okubo's heroism as "an inspiration to all who believe in duty, honor and service to one's country. ... He is a shining example of the sacrifices made by so many other Asian-Pacific Americans during World War II, who served our country so ably in spite of the difficulties they faced as members of a suspect minority."

Akaka has already been instrumental in getting a public law approved that required the military to review the combat records of Asian and Pacific Island Americans who received the Distinguished Service Cross to determine whether they should be upgraded to the next level, the Medal of Honor.

The files of 20 Asian- and Pacific Island-American soldiers have been sent to Cohen for approval before being transmitted to the president and Congress for final action.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, who lost his right arm fighting the Germans in Italy in 1945, is a DSC recipient, but it is not known if the request to upgrade his medal was approved by the Army.

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