Barney F. Hajiro, Medal of Honor recipient, dies at 94

By Dennis McLellan
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 5:31 PM

Barney F. Hajiro, whose heroic actions as a World War II Army private during the rescue of the so-called Lost Battalion and in two other fierce battles in eastern France earned him a belated Medal of Honor nearly six decades later, died of unreported causes Jan. 21 in Honolulu. He was 94.

The Hawaiian-born son of Japanese immigrants, Mr. Hajiro was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the highly decorated Army unit activated in early 1943 and made up mostly of Japanese Americans.

Mr. Hajiro's Medal of Honor - the military's highest award for valor - was awarded for his heroism during three separate days in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine in October 1944.

On Oct. 19, he was a sentry on top of an embankment when, as chronicled in his Medal of Honor citation, he assisted Allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He also helped the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers.

On Oct. 22, Mr. Hajiro and a fellow soldier concealed themselves in an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed enemy patrol: They killed two, wounded one and took the rest as prisoners.

Then, on Oct. 29, during the rescue of the enemy-surrounded 141st Texas Regiment - the Lost Battalion - Mr. Hajiro initiated an attack up what was dubbed Suicide Hill by running forward about 100 yards under fire.

"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."

Mr. 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.

That changed after Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) sponsored an amendment to the 1996 Defense Authorization Act that ordered the Army 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.

Akaka was concerned that racial prejudice against Japanese Americans during the war, a time when thousands of Japanese Americans were relocated to internment camps, prevented them from receiving the highest award for valor in combat.

"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.

At a White House ceremony that year, Mr. Hajiro and 21 other Asian Americans who had served during World War II were awarded Medals of Honor.

The second of nine children, Mr. Hajiro was born Sept. 16, 1916, in Puunene on Maui. He left school to work in the sugar cane fields and later worked as a stevedore in Honolulu before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

After he was drafted, Mr. Hajiro did menial labor in an engineering battalion before volunteering for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. After his discharge, he worked in security at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and, later, at Honolulu International Airport.

Survivors include his wife, Esther; a son; two brothers; a sister; and a grandson.

- Los Angeles Times

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