POSTED: 11:44 p.m. HST, Feb 14, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 5:01 a.m. HST, Feb 15, 2011
Medal of Honor recipient Barney Hajiro, who was given the nation's highest military honor a half-century after the heroic acts he was recognized for, was buried Monday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Hajiro served in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of mostly Japanese-American soldiers that together with the 100th Infantry Battalion was the most decorated combat unit for its size in U.S. history.
The Maui-born former sugar plantation worker was the oldest living recipient of the medal when he died on Jan. 21 at the age of 94.
His widow Esther, the couple's only son, Glenn, and other family members and friends attended the ceremony, KITV reported. About a dozen veterans of the 442nd served as honorary pall bearers.
Hajiro earned his medal at a place called "Suicide Hill" in France's Vosges Mountains.
It was Oct. 29, 1944, and Hajiro's platoon in the 100th was under heavy fire from German machine guns, which had killed eight GIs and wounded 21 in the unit.
Suddenly, Hajiro picked up his Browning automatic rifle and charged. He wiped out two machine gun nests and killed two snipers before he was hit by a third machine gun, receiving wounds to the body, arm and face.
His action came in the third and final push in the 442nd's breakthrough to rescue the "Lost Battalion," a former Texas National Guard unit cut off by the Germans.
Hajiro initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military honor.
But Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said questions were raised about the fairness of the military's awards system after only one Medal of Honor was awarded to 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Battalion soldiers even though they experienced fierce and heavy combat.
In 1996, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, persuaded Congress to direct the Pentagon to review the actions of 104 soldiers of Asian and Pacific ancestry who were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
That effort was patterned on a 1993 law that led to the upgrading of Distinguished Service Crosses and Navy Crosses won by seven black veterans to the Medal of Honor.
After a three-year review, the Army recommended that Hajiro and 20 other soldiers — 19 Japanese-Americans, one Filipino-American and one Chinese-American — be awarded the Medal of Honor. President Bill Clinton presented Hajiro and five other veterans — including Inouye — with their medals in 2000. The remaining medals went to the surviving families.
Hawaii state flags flew at half-staff from sunrise on Saturday through sunset on Monday in Hajiro's honor.