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Hawaii Medal of Honor recipient Barney Hajiro dies

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 1:33 p.m. HST, Jan 24, 2011

The nation's oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, Barney Hajiro, died Friday at Maunalani Hospital in Honolulu.

He was 94. 

Hajiro had been awarded three Distinguished Service Crosses by the Army while serving with a rifle company in the 442 Regimental Combat Team during World War II in Europe. 

One of those awards was upgraded to the Medal of Honor 46 years after the war ended at the urging of Sen. Daniel Akaka who authored congressional legislation requiring the Army to determine whether 22 Asian and Pacific Island Americans who received the Distinguished Service Cross had not been properly recognized because of the war's anti-Japanese sentiment. Twenty, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, were members of the famed segregated Japanese American 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

During one of the 442nd's fiercest campaigns in dense forests of France's Vosges Mountains to free the towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, Hajiro on Oct. 29, 1944, led a charge  on "Suicide Hill" drawing fire and single-handedly destroying two machine gun nests and killing two enemy snipers before being wounded by a third machine gun.

The effort by the nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team's I and K companies to rescue Texas 36th Division's "Lost Battalion" is considered to be one of the key battles in U.S. Army history.

In a 2000 Star-Bulletin story, Hajiro discussed the battle before President Clinton hung the sky-blue ribbon that dangles a gold star around his neck at a special White House ceremony.

 "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."

During the battle, an enemy bullet had penetrated Hajiro's left wrist and severed a nerve. Another bullet had entered his shoulder. His left cheek also was scarred by an enemy bullet.

Several days earlier Hajiro, while acting as a sentry near Bruyeres, helped allied troops by 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, killing or wounding two enemy snipers.

On Oct. 22, he and fellow soldier 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 rest as prisoners. 

Edward Yamasaki, president of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team's I Company chapter, in his book --  "And Then There Were Eight" -- noted that I Company started the battle with 140 riflemen. "Then there only eight soldiers standing at the end."

Hajiro was the eldest of nine children and left the 8th grade at Puunene on Maui to work in the sugar-cane fields for 10 cents an hour, 10 hours a day. Because he had to leave school to help support his family, Hajiro, an aspiring track star, was never able to pursue his dream to compete in high school and college.

He is survived by a son, Glenn; wife, Esther, and one grandson.

Funeral services, which are being handled by Hosoi Mortuary, are pending.

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