BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. The award is generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress
What’s the connection between the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy? Less than ten minutes away from the Leaning Tower is a memorial to honor a Medal of Honor recipient.
The monument was erected in June 2006 in Camp Darby, a U.S. military base located near the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the memory of PFC Nakae, Company A, 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team for his heroic actions in combat on August 19, 1944 against the German forces in the Pisa area. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism. In 2000 the DSC was reviewed by a Presidential panel and upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Nakae was one of 22 Americans of Japanese descent who received the Medal of Honor on June 21, 2000 (about two years after his death) by President Bill Clinton. Originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor after Congress directed the Secretary of the Army to review all awards of the DSC to Americans of Japanese and Pacific Islands descent to determine if racial bias had influenced the awards process.
Masato Nakae was born in Ha‘ena, Hawaii. Later, the family moved to Rice Camp in Lihu‘e, Hawaii. According to his brother, Kiyoshi Nakae of Hanama‘ulu, there were three boys and one girl in the family. Masato Nakae was the eldest, and due to the death of their father he could not continue his education and was required to work to supplement the family’s income.
He entered military service in early 1942 and joined the 100th Infantry Battalion when it was activated in June 1942. The 100th Battalion was the first all Japanese American combat unit formed. It landed at Salerno, Italy on September 22, 1943 and engaged in major battles, including Alife, Cassino and Anzio, prior to the arrival of the 442nd RCT. When it was integrated into the 442nd RCT in June 1944 at Civitavecchia, Italy, it retained its original unit designation, 100th Infantry Battalion, instead of being redesignated as the 1st Battalion. The 100th distinguished itself in eight campaigns in Italy and France.
All three brothers eventually served in the U.S. Army, but only Masato Nakae served with the 100th/442nd during World War II. They served during a period when Japanese-Americans were having difficulties receiving the trust of the nation due to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Despite the distrust obviously displayed to these loyal Americans, they faithfully served without one shred of evidence of disloyalty. The 100th/442nd was an all-Japanese Nisei (first generation of Japanese born in the United States) unit and their actions during the war reflected that they were undoubtedly loyal citizens of this country. There was never a case of desertion or absence without leave.
Masato was discharged on November 1945. He eventually met and married Haruko Nishikawa of Kane‘ohe, which was the town on the Hawaiian island of Oahu where they permanently decided to relocate and call home. They had one daughter, Anne (Nakae) Kuroda.
According to his son-in-law, Randall Kuroda, Masato Nakae “refused to discuss his combat experiences with anyone.”
Congressional Medal of Honor
Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 100th Battalion, 442d Infantry Regiment
Place and date: Near Pisa, Italy, 19 August 1944
Citation: Private Masato Nakae distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 19 August 1944, near Pisa, Italy. When his submachine gun was damaged by a shell fragment during a fierce attack by a superior enemy force, Private Nakae quickly picked up his wounded comrade’s M-1 rifle and fired rifle grenades at the steadily advancing enemy. As the hostile force continued to close in on his position, Private Nakae threw six grenades and forced them to withdraw. During a concentrated enemy mortar barrage that preceded the next assault by the enemy force, a mortar shell fragment seriously wounded Private Nakae. Despite his injury, he refused to surrender his position and continued firing at the advancing enemy. By inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy force, he finally succeeded in breaking up the attack and caused the enemy to withdraw. Private Nakae’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
/s/ William Clinton President
PFC Masato Nakae is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Honolulu, Hawaii, Section U, grave 1446.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.