Wai’anae Coast’s Heroes

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
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National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

BY DUANE VACHON Usually when one thinks of the Wai’anae Coast, heroes do not come to mind.  Unless you are a resident of this beautiful coast  it is unlikely you would know that it has three native sons who have earned America’s highest award for gallantry.

The Wai’anae Coast has a population of approximately 5,000 and from this small segment of the State of Hawaii three Congressional Medal of Honor recipients have come. Shinyei Nakamine, Yeiki Kobashigawa, and Herbert K. Pilila`au.


Our story today is about one of those three, Shinyei Nakamine, a Nisei who paid the ultimate price to prove his loyalty to America.  Shinyei who was born and raised on the Wai’anae Coast was one of the first to join the 100th Infantry Battalion.

The 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)—known as the “One-Puka-Puka” (Puka means “hole” in Hawaiian)—was activated on June 12, 1942, was an all Asian American unit composed of mostly Japanese Americans. It was composed of over 1,400 predominantly Nisei (Second Generation Americans of Japanese Ancestry), led by a handful of “haole” (Caucasian) officers. The troops were formed from the Varsity Victory Volunteers in the Territory of Hawaii, which led to many pidgin phrases becoming common in the Battalion and in the subsequently-formed442nd Regimental Combat Team.

After training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the battalion was ready to deploy, but was refused by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Mark Clark, commanding the Fifth Army, accepted the offer, and the One-Puka-Puka deployed to the Mediterranean in August 1943.

Fifth Army attached the battalion to the 34th Infantry Division. The unit entered combat on September 27, 1943, near Salerno in Southern Italy. The battalion fought well and took heavy casualties, leading Clark to tell the Army “Send me all you got!”

Historically, the unit is referred to as the “Purple Heart Battalion”, with the motto “Go For Broke”. One of the most famous members of this unit was U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye who was part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He lost his arm from wounds sustained in combat.

Medal of Honor citation

Private Shinyei Nakamine distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 2 June 1944, near La Torreto, Italy. During an attack, Private Nakamine’s platoon became pinned down by intense machine gun crossfire from a small knoll 200 yards to the front. On his own initiative, Private Nakamine crawled toward one of the hostile weapons. Reaching a point 25 yards from the enemy, he charged the machine gun nest, firing his submachine gun, and killed three enemy soldiers and captured two. Later that afternoon, Private Nakamine discovered an enemy soldier on the right flank of his platoon’s position. Crawling 25 yards from his position, Private Nakamine opened fire and killed the soldier. Then, seeing a machine gun nest to his front approximately 75 yards away, he returned to his platoon and led an automatic rifle team toward the enemy. Under covering fire from his team, Private Nakamine crawled to a point 25 yards from the nest and threw hand grenades at the enemy soldiers, wounding one and capturing four. Spotting another machine gun nest 100 yards to his right flank, he led the automatic rifle team toward the hostile position but was killed by a burst of machine gun fire. Private Nakamine’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.

There is an interesting story that was shared with me when I was doing the research for this article.  After the ceremony in which the Medal of Honor was awarded to several Nisei by President Clinton a special retreat ceremony was held by the Army.

Along with many of the families of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Hayashi’s family had attended a special retreat ceremony Tuesday night.

At the end of the ceremony there were two families left who could not get on the Army buses as they were full.  One family was the Nakamine’s and the other was the Hayashi’s whose brother had also received the Congressional Medal of Honor. But when they were preparing to leave, all the Army buses were full.

As they waited, the Army’s Chief of Staff, four-star General Eric Shinseki, saw Hayashi and the family of Shinyei Nakamine waiting. Like the island boy he is, the general invited the two families to his three-story quarters.

“I thought they (the Shinseki’s) were most gracious,” said Karen Kanimoto, Hayashi’s daughter.

“They were so cordial. They haven’t lost the Hawaiian spirit. I was impressed by their sincerity. They showed us every part of their home.”

General Shinseki, now Secretary Shinseki is the living embodiment of the Aloha Spirit.

Private Shinyei Nakamine now rests in peace at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Section D Grave 402.

Duane A Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights” He also writes a weekly column “in The Big Island Reporter” Reach him at vachon.duane@gmail.com