BY DUANE A. VACHON – Barney Hajiro the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, died in Waipahu Hawaii on January 21st 2011.
Born in 1916 the second of nine children Barney Hajiro was not able to attend High School on the Hawaiian Island of Maui where his parents emigrated to from Hiroshima. Instead of High School Barney worked in the on a sugar plantation for 10 cents an hour.
Barney lost two siblings who died in infancy, his remaining brothers and sisters looked forward to New Years day, it was the only day in the year that they got a bottle of soda. Because he had to leave school to help support his family, Barney, an aspiring track star, was never able to pursue his dream to compete in high school and college.
Barney left Maui to become a stevedore in Honolulu. Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack Barney was drafted and did menial labor in an engineering battalion. Barney, who had a reputation as a fighter did not hesitate when the opportunity came to join all-Nisei 442nd (“Go for Broke”) Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland.
BECAUSE Barney, liked to fight so much, Army officials sent him to a rifle company in the 442nd Regimental Combat’s 3rd Battalion after he was court-martialed for his second brawling offense.
During the rescue efforts for the Texas 36th Division’s “Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France, many of the sergeants in his company had been wounded. By mid-afternoon on Oct, 29, 1944, Barney was in the midst of what was called “the Banzai Charge.” It is widely accepted that Barney may have been the man who started the assault.
Barney and the 3rd Battalion were in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Barney’s unit was pinned down, getting picked off one by one by Germans occupying the high ground approximately one hundred yards above them. When the order to attack finally came, Barney rose, his BAR cradled in his arms, and charged up the hill toward the heavily fortified enemy positions. Halfway uphill, he killed three Germans in a machine-gun nest.
Then, when an enemy rifleman fired at him and missed, Barney turned and killed him. Later, he destroyed another emplacement, killing two more enemy gunners and a sniper guarding it. Nearing the top of the hill, he took aim at a third machine-gun nest and was hit in the shoulder at point-blank range. Another bullet entered his wrist, severing a nerve. Finally, a medic came up and forced him to go back to an aid station.
“There was shooting coming from all sides. I got hit in my arm … my BAR was hit … and then my helmet was blown off my head.”
By the time Barney overran the enemy he had destroyed three machine-gun nests, but an enemy bullet had penetrated his left wrist and severed a nerve. Another bullet had entered his shoulder. His left cheek also was scarred by an enemy bullet.
Barney Hajiro’s official Medal of Honor citation reads:
Private Barney F. Hajiro distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 19, 22, and October 29, 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, eastern France. Private Hajiro, while acting as a sentry on top of an embankment on October 19, 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres, France, rendered assistance to allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers.
On October 22, 1944, he and one comrade took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed, enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the remainder as prisoners. On October 29, 1944, in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Private Hajiro initiated an attack up the slope of a hill referred to as “Suicide Hill” by running forward approximately 100 yards under fire.
He then advanced ahead of his comrades about 10 yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests. He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful. Private Hajiro’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit, and the United States Army.
Barney will be laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific with his buddies from the 442nd.