Barney Fushimi Hajiro

Barney Fushimi Hajiro
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, I Company

Barney Fushimi Hajiro was born on September 16, 1916, in Puunene, Maui, Territory of Hawaii.  He was the second child of Shiroichi and Satsuyo (Noda) Hajiro.  His siblings were:  brothers Bruce Nigoichi, Tokuro, Haruto, and Umeo; and sisters Kagimi and Mitsue.  Two other children died in infancy.

Shiroichi emigrated from the village of Nomi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, in 1907.  He settled on Maui and worked for the sugar plantation at Puunene.  He traveled to Honolulu to marry Satsuyo Noda on March 5, 1914, at the U.S. Immigration Station, just two days after her arrival from Hiroshima Prefecture.

In 1918, Satsuyo took her two children, Kagimi (age 4) and Fushimi (age 3), and returned to Japan on the Shinyo Maru.  By 1920, she had returned to Hawaii without the children and she and Shiroichi lived in the McGarrow Camp on the sugar plantation in Puunene, where they both worked.  The next child, Mitsue, was born the following year.  By 1930, Kagimi and Fushimi were back in Puunene, the family was living at Williams Camp, and Shiroichi worked on the sugar plantation.

Barney, as Fushimi had come to be known, dropped out of school after the 8th grade in order to help support his family.  He worked as a woodcutter at the sugar cane plantation in Puunene.  By 1940, he was living in Lanai City, Lanai, and working in the pineapple fields.  While there, he was active on the local track team and even traveled to Waimea, Kauai, for a race.  He had aspirations to attend college and become a track star.

By the fall of that year, Barney had moved to Honolulu, where he registered for the draft on October 26, 1940, at Local Board No. 5, in Room 212 of the Tax Building.  His point of contact was his father, Shiroichi, who lived in Puunene.  Hajiro lived at 43 South School Street, but other addresses were written in on his registration card and crossed out:  Lanai City; Coconut Island in Kaneohe; and Brodie 4 in Wahiawa.  Barney was employed by Christopher Holmes in Kaneohe.  He was 5’5-1/2” tall and weighed 140 pounds.

On February 1, 1942, Barney enlisted in the Army in Honolulu.  His civilian occupation was given as “Semiskilled longshoreman/stevedore.”  He reported that he had attended two years of high school.  At the time, he was 5’5” tall and weighed 120 pounds.  He was assigned to the 298th Infantry Regiment and sent for basic training at Schofield Barracks.  The training actually consisted of “close and extended order drills without arms, gas training, and military courtesy.”  On October 1, 1942, he was transferred to the 370th Engineers, also at Schofield Barracks.  In later interviews, Barney said:

I trained at Schofield in a labor unit.  So we don’t train with nothing – no military training – just put up barbed wire, make pill box.  ‘As [That’s] all we was doing, we don’t carry no gun.  My first sergeant was Sergeant Ing at that time.  He was a Chinese American.  He carried an M1 rifle.  But we all, you know – Japanese Americans – never carry a gun at that time.

While in the Army on Oahu, Barney was on the Citywide Athletic Association track team and ran the Diamond Head 5-Mile Marathon.

In March 1943, when the call for Japanese American men for the 442nd was issued, Barney rapidly volunteered.  He later said:

Well, they put me in Kahuku, to make an airfield down there.  We was the labor.  That place was miserable because always raining.  I get so disgusted with that place, I joined the 442nd.

Hajiro was placed in the “tent city” known as Boom Town at Schofield Barracks with the new soldiers who had just enlisted.  They were given a farewell aloha ceremony by the community on March 28 at Iolani Palace.  On April 4, they sailed on the S.S. Lurline for Oakland, California.  Upon disembarking, the men were sent by train across country to Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

At Camp Shelby, Private Hajiro was assigned to 3rd Battalion, M Company, which was the heavy weapons company for the battalion.  He was trained to be a messenger or runner for M Company.  During the following months, he was on the 442nd’s boxing team where he gained a reputation as a “classy boxer.”

Barney’s thoughts on the 442nd soldiers from the Mainland were similar to other Hawaii soldiers:

….the mainland guys…the way they talk, good English, see?  And the Hawaiians is all pidgin.  So we was mad with them because, you know, the way they talk to us, just like they scolding us, you know?  All serious.  So I no like them, you know?  Not the looks, but, you know, the way they talk.  You know Hawaii guys, we all stay happy-go-lucky, eh?

As for Pvt. Hajiro’s time off, when he was free to go into town from Camp Shelby, he said:

Well, most of the time, I cannot go Hattiesburg because I used to be broke all the time.  Every payday somebody take all my money at the crap game.  Not only me, lots of privates was all broke.

After over a year of basic and unit training, the 442nd left Camp Shelby for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944.  They shipped out from nearby Hampton Roads to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations on May 2 in a convoy of over 100 troop ships and arrived in Naples, Italy, on May 28.  They then went by LSTs to the beachhead at Anzio.  From Anzio, the 442nd transferred to a bivouac area near Civitavecchia, just north of Rome.

On June 26, 1944, the 442nd RCT moved forward from Civitavecchia to the front lines for their first combat engagement.

Hajiro served throughout the 442nd’s time in Italy during the Rome-Arno Campaign.  After a month of heavy combat on the front lines, the 442nd was sent to the town of Vada for some rest.  While there, one day as he and a friend were returning to the camp after buying fresh fruit and vegetables in town, he came upon a fight between an Italian and a 442nd soldier.  Below is Barney’s reaction to what he saw:

And all the guys watching was coaching for the Italian to beat up the soldier.  I don’t know them, but still, I cannot stand that one American soldier getting beaten up, so I wen’ go in there, we beat ‘em up.  When he went down, I…I shouldn’t kick the guy.  But I kick him and everything.  I was young then, you know?  So the haole MP came, you know, with the jeep.  He say, ‘Halt!”  So the other guy, he took off.  And me, I thought I was doing the right thing, but…  So the MP took me back to my company – M Company.  Captain Hempstead was so mad that I was involved in one fight again.  Then he court-martial me…and he threw me to one rifle company.  He say, ‘If you like fight, you going see plenny action.

Consequently, Barney was put in I Company, 2nd Platoon, where he told Tech Sergeant Sadaichi Kubota:

Sarge, I’m not a bad guy.  I go fight only ‘cause one of us boys was getting beat up.  I’m not a bad guy.  I going show you someday I’m not a bad guy.

Hajiro asked to be assigned to Tech Sergeant Kazumi (“Portagee”) Matsunami’s squad as a BAR man because he was familiar with automatic weapons.  Permission was granted, so Barney was given a 21-pound Browning Automatic Rifle and had a week to learn how to use it.  As the unit returned to the front lines along the Arno River, he frequently volunteered for scouting missions on the enemy-held north side of the river.

At this point, the 442nd was pulled from the lines and sent to Naples in preparation for leaving Italy for France on September 27, 1944.  There, they were to fight in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign.

After being transported by rail boxcars and trucks about 500 miles north of where they landed near Marseilles, on October 14 the Combat Team joined the fighting to liberate the important rail and road junction of Bruyères.  Several days of fierce battles resulted in liberating Bruyères on October 18.

The next day, on October 19, in the vicinity of Bruyères, Private Hajiro distinguished himself while acting as a sentry while atop an embankment.  In support of Allied troops who were attacking a house 200 yards away, Hajiro exposed himself to enemy fire by directly firing at an enemy strongpoint, firing his BAR and killing or wounding two enemy snipers.

The fighting continued with the liberation of neighboring Belmont on the 22nd.  On this day, Private Hajiro distinguished himself east of Belmont, as described by T/Sgt. Kubota:

…we had dug in for the night.  It was a dusky and hazy day under the thick canopy of pine trees.  Hajiro was placed on outpost duty in the rear perimeter of the platoon.  Soon, in the misty haze, he was seen coming toward me, BAR at port, escorting an enemy detail of still heavily armed men.  He was instructed to take the prisoners to Captain Byrne.  Reporting the situation later, he explained that this patrol was coming up a draw where he was on security.  He waited in hiding in the haze until they were close enough and then fired.  He dropped the two leading elements.  The others took cover but soon regrouped upon his command to surrender.  The capture was effected without further incident, he said.  He alerted his sergeant, Shigenori Matsumoto, who assisted in marching the prisoners in.  Sergeant Matsumoto remembered this episode as he witnessed Hajiro relieving a German officer of his Luger pistol.  Upon being questioned further regarding the capture, Hajiro said nonchalantly, ‘If they go make trouble, I go blast ‘em with my BAR.’

The official record describes this event as Hajiro and a fellow platoon member taking up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon and concealing themselves.  They then ambushed an 18-man heavily armed enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the rest as prisoners.

At this point, the 442nd was sent back to Belmont for a few days of rest, as they had been in combat since October 14.  However, after a day there, they were told that the following morning they would be heading out to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Regiment.  Despite numerous attempts to rescue it, this battalion remained surrounded on three sides by the enemy after advancing beyond its support.

Following is a description by I Company Medic Victor Izui of what the 442nd encountered, after the costly and exhausting battles for Bruyères and Biffontaine, as they set out on their mission – still in their summer uniforms:

To get to them, we encountered the most God-awful terrain and weather in the dark, jungle-like Vosges forest – a series of unmaneuverable, long, narrow ridges; cold rain and more cold rain; well-camouflaged, well dug-in, tenacious enemy we couldn’t see; water-logged foxholes and soggy combat boots that produced trench feet; digging dugouts no matter how tired we were in order to survive devastating nightly barrages and tree bursts…a foolhardy general [Major General John E. Dahlquist] who came right up to our lines, goading us to get up and charge…three days of slow, tedious tree-to-tree fighting with no sleep; forcing down cold, dry meat hash and crackers with cold, stale water…

On October 27, Hajiro’s 3rd Battalion set out at 4:00 a.m., marching in column with each man holding onto the pack of the man in front of him as they could not see in the pitch-dark night.  By 2:00 p.m., they were in position in the center of the line with 2nd Battalion on the left (with a large gap between them) and 100th Battalion on the right.  The attack moved very slowly, meeting heavy resistance.  About 3:30 p.m., I and K Companies were in the advance and were counterattacked.  The fighting was severe and after the counterattack was broken, they dug in for the night.

On October 28, 3rd Battalion ran into manned enemy roadblocks.  By the end of the day, the 100th and 3rd Battalions had advanced about 500 yards and captured 70 prisoners.

On October 29, the 100th and 3rd attacked at dawn and advanced some distance before they were stopped cold by an extremely strong enemy defensive position.  Lieutenant Colonel Alfred A. Pursall, commander of the 3rd Battalion, first tried to flank the enemy from the left up steep and well-defended terrain.  Company K was thrown back with heavy losses.

Pursall then called on tanks for direct fire, enabling Companies I and K to advance slightly.  However, the leading elements were again pinned down.

Finally, the men from both companies slowly got to their feet and started for the enemy positions on top of the hill, moving from tree to tree as they shot from the hip.  This advance broke the enemy, who were overwhelmed.  Private Barney Hajiro is widely credited for starting this “suicide” or “Banzai” attack.  He ran up the hill about 100 yards under fire.  He then advanced about 10 more yards beyond his comrades, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine-gun nests.  He singlehandedly destroyed both nests.

The hill was also later called Suicide Hill or Banzai Hill.  Following is the account later written by T/Sgt. Kubota, who was in a field hospital with a damaged Achilles tendon, from accounts of wounded men coming into the hospital:

They were attacking well-entrenched enemy positions.  Moving forward was difficult as they were constantly being pinned down and fired upon with deadly accuracy…Fellow soldiers were getting killed or wounded…Hajiro, under cover, was a few yards away from him.  Suddenly, he saw Hajiro boldly stand up and, loudly shouting expletives, advance alone with his BAR spitting fire.  At that moment, he realized he couldn’t let Hajiro attack alone.  Therefore, he himself stood up and started attacking, shouting and yelling at the top of his voice as he fired.  Then a strange thing happened.  He saw other fellow soldiers moving forward, also firing and attacking with crazed-like shouts.

So, it was Pvt. Barney Hajiro who had provided the spark that ignited the spirits of his comrades to rally and boldly attack.  As he did so, he screamed such epithets as, “You goddamn Jerries!  You f— buggahs!”  When an enemy rifleman fired at him and missed, he whipped around and shot him at 40 yards.  Only enemy bullets stopped him, when he was hit on his left side, shoulder, cheek, and wrist.  Other bullets blew his helmet off his head and shattered his BAR.  He said to T/Sgt. Kubota years after the war that he only faintly remembered what happened during the attack.  Had he done this to “prove” he was a good guy, Kubota asked him.  Barney replied, “Somebody gotta do the job – my buddies, they getting killed.”

Hajiro said to himself after he was riddled with bullets at point-blank range, “I no care for life already.”  At this point he was still standing in the midst of bullets being fired by wave after wave of the attacking 442nd men.  He went down the hill and saw Lt. Col. Pursall behind a tree with his pistol in hand, and yelled at him, “Let’s go up!”  The medics forced him to the aid station, and he wept as he was patched up.  Because of his actions, the attack was successful and the “Lost Battalion” was rescued the next day.

He was taken to the field hospital and his wound was so serious that he was not returned to his company, but was sent to an Army hospital far behind the lines.  Months later, he returned briefly to the 442nd as they were in the south of France participating in the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign near Nice.  However, his wrist had not healed sufficiently and he was returned to the US, where he was sent to an Army hospital in Michigan.

Pfc Barney Hajiro near the end of the war

Hajiro’s recovery was very lengthy and he did not arrive home until many months after the end of the war.  On February 4, 1946, he was among other returning veterans, including four from the 442nd RCT, and many military dependents, on the S.S. Lurline when it docked at Pier 11 in Honolulu Harbor.  He was soon discharged from the Army.

While he was in the hospital in France, Hajiro was recommended by his commander, 1st Lt. James D. Wheatley, for the Medal of Honor and the UK’s Victoria Cross.  When the award came in, it had been downgraded from the Medal of Honor to the second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross.

For his military service, Private First Class Barney F. Hajiro was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, and Combat Infantryman Badge.  He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on October 5, 2010, along with the other veterans of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.  This is the highest Congressional Civilian Medal.

Pfc. Hajiro in August 1946 upon receiving the Distinguished Service Cross

On November 1, 1948, he was awarded the British Military Medal, the highest medal given to a non-citizen of the UK.  The presentation was held at 10:30 a.m. aboard the Canadian destroyer HMCS Cayuga, in Honolulu Harbor.  It was presented on behalf of HM King George VI by the British Consul to Hawaii, Lionel H. Whital.  The citation was read by Commander Owen C. S. Robertson, the ship’s commander.  A company of the ship’s sailors formed an Honor Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy Band was in attendance.  Hajiro had fought alongside the British 8th Army in the Rome-Arno Campaign in Italy, although the award was given for his actions in October 1944 in the Vosges Campaign in France.

Below:  Hajiro on HMCS Cayuga, 1948

Hajiro married Esther Yurie Yamada of Aiea.  By 1950, they were living in Halawa Veterans Housing at 117 Red Hill Avenue in Aiea and Barney was employed as a guard at Oahu Prison.  Over the years, they had a family of two sons, Wayne F. and Glenn F. Hajiro.

He retired from the Pearl Harbor Naval Base where he worked for many years as a security guard.

Many years after the war, Pfc. Barney F. Hajiro was summoned to travel to the White House in Washington DC.  There, in a special ceremony, he and six other recipients were awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton on June 21, 2000.  His Distinguished Service Cross had been upgraded 53 years after the action for which it was bestowed on him.

Hajiro after receiving his Medal of Honor, 2000

On October 14, 2004, Hajiro was awarded the French Légion d’honneur at a ceremony held aboard the French military surveillance ship Prairial, anchored at Pier 9 in Honolulu Harbor.  The medal was bestowed by French Consul Fédéric Desagneaux of San Francisco.  Afterwards, Hajiro commented:  “We fought together – it was teamwork, not individual. We all fought in the battle.”

Hajiro wearing his French Legion of Honor, 2004

Barney F. Hajiro died on January 21, 2011, at the Maunalani Nursing and Rehab  Center.  At the time, he was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.  His son Wayne predeceased him in 1984 at the age of 36.  Survivors included his wife Esther, son Glenn, one grandchild, brothers Tokuro and Umeo, and sisters Kogimi Matsui and Pearl Mitsue Yoshikawa.  Barney was buried with full military honors on February 14 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Section G, Site 75.  His tombstone has the gold lettering denoting his status as a Medal of Honor recipient, and it is engraved with  “Medal of Honor” and “Go For Broke.”  His widow Esther died on May 12, 2012, and was laid to rest next to him.  Her tombstone says, “You are loved always forever.”

Below:  Hajiro in later years wearing his 442nd Veterans distinctive shirt and his MOH ribbon

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2023

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