BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. One Medal of Honor that stands out to me, was awarded to Sadao Munemori of Los Angeles who died in his heroic action becoming the only Japanese-American to receive the Medal during World War II. His Nisei Unit, the 442d Regiment, was one of the most decorated of the war earning in addition to Munemori’s MOH (Medal of Honor), 47 DSCs (Distinguished Service Cross), 354 Silver Stars, and more than 3,600 Purple Hearts. Munemori’s Medal of Honor is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in a tribute to the Nisei of WWII. (In June, 2000, twenty-two Asian/Pacific Islanders had their DSCs upgraded to Medals of Honor, adding 20 additional Japanese-American names to the Honor Roll.)
With California being the great melting pot of nationalities that it is, somehow it seems appropriate that Munermori a Japanese-American would be the one Japanese-American to receive America’s highest Medal for bravery during WW II.
“For Conspicuous Gallantry and Intrepidity in Action At the Risk of Life Above and Beyond the Call of Duty”
The Republic of California is truly a Republic of heroes. California has contributed to the Medal of Honor tally from the Civil War to our most recent wars on Terrorism.
Sadao Munemori PFC USA
Sadao Munemori PFC USA. Sadao Munemori (August 17, 1922 – April 5, 1945) was a United States Army soldier. He was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor, after he sacrificed his life to save those of his fellow soldiers at Seravezza, Italy during World War II. Considering, Munemori’s parents and siblings were forcibly removed from their home in California and incarcerated at the Manzanar internment camp, where they were when their son gave his life for this country and his fellow soldiers, it was quite a selfless act.
Munemori was a private first class in the United States Army, in Company A, 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. For his actions, when the 442nd was part of the 92d Infantry Division, he was the only Japanese American to be awarded the Medal of Honor during or immediately after World War II. Munemori was born in Los Angeles, California to Japanese immigrant parents. He was a Nisei, which means that he is a second generation Japanese American. During World War II, Munemori’s parents and siblings were incarcerated at the Manzanar concentration camp. Two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the US Army. Munemori volunteered to be part of the all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion. The battalion was initially listed as a separate battalion, and fought as part of the 133rd Infantry Regiment within the 34th Infantry Division. After the allied capture of Rome, the battalion withdrew from the front and became the 1st battalion of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. This army unit was mostly made up of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland. In the late 20th century, the awards issued to soldiers of the 442nd Infantry Regiment were reviewed, and 22 soldiers’ medals were upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
In 1942, the Army on the mainland was at a loss as to what to do with the 18 and 19 year old Asians with no college degrees. So most of them were shipped to army bases located in the Midwest, away from the west or east coast. they were assigned all the menial jobs, where they had to endure permanent KP, peeling mountains of potatoes daily, cleaning bed pans at the base hospital. Not their idea of patriotic duty.
Munemori also did a stint at Camp Savage, preparing that camp for the Military Intelligence Service Language School. Along the way, he picked up the nickname “Spud,” reportedly because he was the rare Nisei who preferred potatoes to rice. In the meantime, his family was forcibly removed along with all other West Coast Japanese Americans, ending up confined at the Manzanar camp in central California.
After the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, prewar inductees such as Munemori were once again allowed to bear arms and most were assigned spots in the 442nd. Munemori went to Camp Shelby in January 1944 and became a 100th Infantry Battalion replacement. He went overseas in April of 1944, seeing action in Italy, then in France, where he took part in the rescue of the Lost Battalion.
In 1945, he returned with the 442nd to Italy. In the assault on the Gothic Line on the morning of April 5, he found himself in charge of his squad when his squad leader fell wounded. Trapped with two others in a shell crater by machine gun fire with grenades being hurled at them, Munemori crawled out of the crater and knocked out the enemy machine gun nests with grenades. Scrambling back to the crater, a grenade bounced off his helmet and into the crater. He smothered it with his body and was killed instantly. The other two men suffered concussions and partial deafness but survived.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company A, 100th Infantry Battalion, 442d Combat Team. Place and date: Near Seravezza, Italy, 5 April 1945. Entered service at: Los Angeles, California Birth: Los Angeles, California G.O. No.. 24, 7 March 1946.
“He fought with great gallantry and intrepidity near Seravezza, Italy. When his unit was pinned down by grazing fire from the enemy’s strong mountain defense and command of the squad devolved on him with the wounding of its regular leader, he made frontal, one-man attacks through direct fire and knocked out two machine guns with grenades. Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades from other enemy emplacements, he had nearly reached a shell crater occupied by two of his men when an unexploded grenade bounced on his helmet and rolled toward his helpless comrades. He arose into the withering fire, dived for the missile and smothered its blast with his body. By his swift, supremely heroic action Pfc. Munemori saved two of his men at the cost of his own life and did much to clear the path for his company’s victorious advance.”
Awarded posthumously to Munemori’s mother, Mrs. Nawa Munemori on March 13, 1946 at Fort MacArthur. California Col Evans Crowell made the presentation.
Pfc. Sadao Munemori is buried in the military section of the Evergreen Cemetery, Los Angeles California.
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.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.
So many of our Japanese ancestry American people were so discriminated against, it is time to recognize their contributions. Break free from our Racist past and embrace who we can be, now we can see they were true American people, even though we were too backward to know it at the time. A shameful time for us. Let us embrace moving forward in history.
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