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Medal of Honor lauds Maui man

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A Maui man who died fighting in Korea in 1951 will get a long-delayed Medal of Honor for his bravery on May 2, when President Barack Obama will present the award to his relatives at the White House, officials said.

Army Pfc. Anthony T. Kahoohanohano gave his life in a one-man stand against overwhelming numbers of enemy troops so fellow soldiers could survive.

As the enemy tried to overrun Kahoohanohano’s gun emplacement near Chup’a-ri, the 21-year-old from Wailuku fought back with bullets, grenades and then his hands, according to a Distinguished Service Cross citation presented to his family in 1952.

U.S. troops subsequently found 11 dead enemy soldiers in front of Kahoohanohano’s position, and two in the gun emplacement itself who had been beaten to death with an entrenching tool.

The upgrade to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, was approved by Congress in 2009 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Kahoohanohano’s sister, Elaine Kahoohanohano, and brother, Eugene Kahoohanohano, will join the president at the White House, the White House said.

Eugene Kahoohanohano, at 69 the youngest of six brothers, said, "I was there when they gave him the Distinguished Service Cross. … We looked at the way the thing was written up, the commendation, and we thought he deserved the Medal of Honor."

The May 2 presentation is the culmination of a more than decade-long effort by the family and Hawaii lawmakers to upgrade the Distinguished Service Cross.

The quest was started by Abel Kahoohanohano Sr., one of Anthony’s brothers, and was taken up by Abel’s son, George Kahoohanohano, after his father died, family members said. The late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, followed by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, took up the cause. Akaka was ultimately successful.

All six Kahoohanohano brothers served in the military. Eugene Kahoohanohano said he feels honored to be able to represent his brother and family when the Medal of Honor is presented.

"He did the hard work, and we’re just going over there to get this for him," he said.

Kahoohanohano, who was with Company H, 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, of the 7th Infantry Division, was in charge of a machine-gun squad supporting a company of soldiers as a much larger enemy force advanced in the vicinity of Chup’a-ri, Korea, on Sept. 1, 1951.

According to the posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Cross citation, as the U.S. troops fell back, Kahoohanohano — although already wounded in the shoulder — ordered his squad to a more defensible position while he gathered grenades and returned alone to the machine gun post.

"When his ammunition was depleted, he engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed," a White House statement said. "His heroic stand so inspired his comrades that they launched a counterattack that completely repulsed the enemy."

In 2009, Madeline Kahoohanohano remembered Anthony, her brother-in-law, as a fearless man of his word.

"He didn’t seem to be afraid of anyone," Madeline Kahoohanohano said at the time. "He always was a toughie. He always used to stand up — even for his younger brothers. He would step up and protect his younger brothers."

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