To nisei World War II veteran Genro Kashiwa, many people are more deserving than he of France’s highest civilian honor, the Legion of Honor.
"Why me?" Kashiwa said when asked about the medal. "There were lot of other people doing more heroic things."
Kashiwa, 87, a retired attorney who lives in Aina Haina, will receive the Legion of Honor at a ceremony Friday evening on the deck of French surveillance ship PS Prairial during its port call here. Kashiwa will be the second member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team to be honored by France with the medal and rank of chevalier (knight).
FRENCH FRIGATE TO OPEN FOR PUBLIC TOURS
Public tours of the FS Prairial are available Saturday through Monday from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m. in groups of 15.
The Prairial, which will be anchored at Pier 9 at Aloha Tower Marketplace, is based in Tahiti and will leave April 7. For security, bags and backpacks will not be allowed on board, with the exception of women’s handbags. More tour information can be obtained by calling the French Consulate at 457-4156 or 225-2626.
Barney Hajiro, one of 21 Medal of Honor recipients from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, received the Legion of Honor in 2004 for his part in the liberation of France during World War II. The ceremony also took place on the French frigate Priorial during a port call here.
Kashiwa, whose family goes back to 13 generations of Buddhist Nishu Hongwanji ministers in Fukui, Japan, said he remembers the details of battles that happened so long ago, and that "receiving the Chevalier Legion of Honor is almost a surreal experience that events of over 65 years ago are being remembered today by the French government."
"Words cannot express the feelings that I have,"he said. "I am so very grateful that the French government has chosen to present me with this honor that signifies their recognition that our efforts in the Vosges Mountain and the town of Bruyeres all those many years ago still means something today to the people of France."
While serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in France and Italy, Kashiwa earned two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. The Army unit was made up mainly of Japanese-Americans who volunteered to prove their loyalty. Kashiwa’s father, Ryuten Kashiwa, who was a minister at the Waialua Hongwanji during the war, was sent to an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas, as an enemy alien.
Kashiwa said he’ll accept the French award for "his old gang."
The French medal will be presented to Kashiwa by the commanding officer of the Prairial, Nicolas Pitrat, and Honorary French Counsel Patricia Y. Lee. "The French government is awarding this in gratitude for his service," Lee said.
The medal is one of the most prestigious French awards and the country’s highest civilian honor. It was first instituted by Emperor Napoleon I on May 19, 1802. The award consists of five classes. In descending order of distinction, they are grand cross, grand officer, commander, officer and chevalier. The order is conferred upon men and women, either French citizens or foreigners, for outstanding achievements in military or civil life.
Kashiwa served in the Army from 1943 to 1946 and was a member of L Company, 3rd Battalion in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He mustered out as a technical sergeant, equivalent to a staff sergeant in today’s Army.
He was awarded his first Silver Star in 1944 while Company L’s 1st Platoon was involved in liberating Bruyeres and a battle following the rescue of a battalion from the 141st Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division from Texas.
In his personal history of the French campaign, Kashiwa said following the "Banzai Charge" by fellow soldiers of the 442nd, his company ran into a German machine gun nest on the ridge line of a mountain in November 1944.
Kashiwa assumed command of his platoon when its sergeant was wounded and had to be evacuated.
According to his Silver Star citation, Kashiwa took his platoon through a minefield, surprised the Germans and killed three enemy soldiers, silencing the machine gun.
Two of his soldiers were wounded in the firefight. Kashiwa is credited with treating their wounds under fire and directing their evacuations.
He received his Silver Star Oak Leaf Cluster, signifying a second award of the nation’s third highest medal for valor, during the Italian campaign in Mount Fologorito.
In Italy in April 1945, Kashiwa was in charge of a platoon assigned to clear the summit of a mountain to prevent a German counterattack.
After a personal reconnaissance, he directed one squad to attempt to move around the base of the summit and take the enemy from the rear while he led the other squad in a frontal assault.
His squad was able to almost reach the top before it was detected. Catching the enemy soldiers 10 yards away from their machine guns, Kashiwa rushed forward and cut off the Germans from their weapons. Kashiwa’s tommy gun jammed after firing one shot, but the German soldiers, apparently confused, fled.
Kashiwa grabbed a German machine gun and fired it on the fleeing soldiers, forcing them to seek shelter in a reinforced bunker. Then he crawled alone to within grenade range and threw two grenades which forced the remaining six Germans to surrender, the Silver Star citation said.
After the war, Kashiwa attended University of Michigan law school and practiced law from 1951 to 2005.