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After long wait, family receives soldier’s medal

  • President Barack Obama awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor to George Kahoo­hano­hano

President Barack Obama presented a Medal of Honor yesterday at the White House to the family of Army Pfc. Anthony T. Kahoohanohano of Wailuku for his bravery on a battlefield in Korea nearly 60 years ago.

Kahoohanohano was 21 when gave his life in a one-man stand against overwhelming numbers of enemy troops so fellow soldiers could fall back to safety.

About 23 members of the Kahoohanohano family traveled from Hawaii to be in Washington, D.C., for the presentation, including Anthony’s sister Elaine Kahoohanohano, brother Eugene Kahoohanohano and nephew George Kahoohanohano.

Obama also presented a Medal of Honor to the family of Army Pfc. Henry Svehla of New Jersey, who was mortally wounded in Korea when he threw himself on a grenade in 1952.

"These two soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice when they were just 19 and 21 years old. Age did not weary them. In the hearts of their families, they remain forever young — loving sons, protective brothers, hometown kids who stood tall in America’s hometown — in America’s uniform," Obama said.

George Kahoohanohano, 61, a retired Maui police captain, said of the award for his uncle, "It’s nice. It was an experience in itself meeting the president. The Medal of Honor was something that we were looking for my Uncle Anthony for quite a while, and it’s just a good feeling for us."

ANTHONY Kahoohanohano’s squad was near the village of Chupa-ri on Sept. 1, 1951, when it came under a ferocious attack.

"With the enemy advancing, with his men outnumbered, Tony made a decision. He ordered his squad to fall back and seek cover. And then Tony did something else. He stayed behind. Machine gun in hand, he laid down fire so his men could get to safety," Obama said. "He was one American soldier, alone, against an approaching army."

Kahoohanohano was wounded in the shoulder, but he fought on.

"He threw grenade after grenade. When his weapon ran out of ammunition, he grabbed another. And when he ran out of ammo, he reached for the only thing left: a shovel," Obama said. "That’s when the enemy overran his position. And in those final moments the combat was hand to hand."

It was that bravery of a single soldier that inspired his men to regroup, to rally and to drive the enemy back, Obama said.

After firing so many bullets, the barrel of his machine gun was literally bent. "But Tony had stood his ground," Obama said. "He had saved the lives of his men."

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.

Davelyn Gordon, Anthony Kahoohanohano’s niece, caught a portion of the award on CNN yesterday morning.

"It was very nice," the 49-year-old Maui resident said.

Family members were invited to a White House reception for the guests and dignitaries.

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