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Barney F. Hajiro, 94, belatedly received the Medal of Honor

Flickr Creative Commons / U.S. Army

Barney F. Hajiro, 94, belatedly received the Medal of Honor

Barney F. Hajiro, the Hawaiian-born son of Japanese immigrants, was among 22 Asian American World War II veterans, who received Medals of Honor – the nation’s highest award for heroism – 55 years after the war ended.

Hajiro, who died Jan. 21 at age 94, “was cited for his heroic actions as an Army private during the rescue of the so-called ‘Lost Battalion’ and in two other fierce battles in eastern France,” reporter Dennis McLellan wrote for the Los Angeles Times obituary for the war hero.

While serving in France with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up mostly of Japanese Americans, Hajiro was cited for heroism he displayed on three separate days in October 1944. McLellan provides a detailed account of Hajiro’s actions on each of those days in the obit.

“He then advanced ahead of his comrades about 10 yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests,” his citation reads. “He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful.”

“Hajiro, who was shot in the shoulder and wrist and barred from further combat duty, originally received a Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for combat valor.”

Years later, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii sponsored a measure to “reassess the records of World War II veterans of Asian ancestry who had received Distinguished Service Crosses to see if they deserved the Medal of Honor,” McLellan wrote.

“The fact that the [Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team] saw such fierce and heavy combat, yet received only one Medal of Honor award, and then only posthumously and due to congressional intervention, raised serious questions about the fairness of the award process at the time," Akaka told the Associated Press in 2000.”

Hajiro and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) were among the seven recipients present at the ceremony. The others were honored posthumously.

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Originally published May 28, 2011. This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer who lives in Northeast Ohio. She is director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.