BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. – On December 7, 1941, Shizuya Hayashi was serving in the 65th Engineers in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was bombed. It took more than four decades to overcome the prejudice and the many injustices that began that day. Because of the nature of the attack, there was a great deal of animosity towards the Japanese residents who lived in Hawaii.
The powers to be at the time were faced with uncertainty about what to do with the Japanese Americans in Hayashi’s unit and other Nisei units. Until mid-1942, they were given menial duties working on plantations and cleaning trash off the roads.
In June 1942, Hayashi along with 1,400 other Nisei soldiers were sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, where they formed the 100th Infantry Battalion, the first combat unit in the history of the U.S. Army made up mainly of Japanese Americans. After more than a year of instruction, the 100th became the most intensively trained unit in the Army, with each man qualified as an expert in several different weapons. The motto of this unit was “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
The Germans were amazed in September of 1943 to see Japanese Americans fighting against them. The 100th Battalion had landed at Salerno, Italy. During the next two months, the unit crossed the waist-deep waters of the winding Volturno River three times in a running engagement with the enemy and suffered the kinds of losses that would eventually earn it the nickname “Purple Heart Battalion”.
On the afternoon of November 29, 1943, Hayashi’s platoon was attacking the Germans on a hill near the town of Cerasuolo. The Germans were firing their 88 mm artillery, called screaming mimis by the GIs because of the shrill and disorienting sound the artillery rounds made before hitting the ground. In an effort to find cover, the Americans stumbled through a minefield, setting off deadly explosions. A bullet grazed Hayashi in the neck; his commanding officer was shot in the back.
Hayashi and two other GIs were separated from the rest of the platoon as night fell. After waiting until daybreak without being rescued, Hayashi sent his two comrades to look for help. The Germans hearing the loud conversations of the two Nisei soldiers opened fire and advanced on them. One German, looking for the two men, came within three feet of Hayashi and then fired at point-blank range. He missed, and Hayashi killed him.
In the face of grenades and rifle and machine-gun fire, Hayashi rose, alone, and shooting his automatic rifle from the hip, charged a German machine-gun position, killing nine of the enemy. When his platoon tried to advance, and an enemy antiaircraft gun began to lob shells at them, Hayashi returned fire, killing nine more Germans. Then he came upon a boy, perhaps thirteen years old, in uniform, curled up and crying. Hayashi couldn’t shoot—he took the boy prisoner, along with three other Germans.
The 100th fought several engagements through Italy. The night before it was scheduled to go into action at Anzio, Hayashi was summoned to battalion headquarters and presented with the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1998, almost fifty-five years later, he received a call from the secretary of the army informing him that this award had been upgraded to the Medal of Honor as a result of a comprehensive review of the contributions of Asian-American servicemen during World War II. President Bill Clinton presented the medal to him in a ceremony on June 21, 2000, at the White House.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, Company A, 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)
Place and date: Cerasuolo, Italy, November 29, 1943
Entered service at: Schofield Barracks, Hawaii
Born: November 28, 1917, Waiakea, Hawaii
Private Shizuya Hayashi distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 29 November 1943, near Cerasuolo, Italy. During a flank assault on high ground held by the enemy, Private Hayashi rose alone in the face of grenade, rifle, and machine gun fire. Firing his automatic rifle from the hip, he charged and overtook an enemy machine gun position, killing seven men in the nest and two more as they fled. After his platoon advanced 200 yards from this point, an enemy antiaircraft gun opened fire on the men. Private Hayashi returned fire at the hostile position, killing nine of the enemy, taking four prisoners, and forcing the remainder of the force to withdraw from the hill. Private Hayashi’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.
Hayashi, Shizuya is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery Of The Pacific in section V grave # 464.