Genichi William Hiraoka
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, I Company
Genichi William Hiraoka was born on September 11, 1924, in Kaneohe, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. He was one of two sons and five daughters of Genjiro and Mitsu (Sugimoto) Hiraoka. His parents emigrated from Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, on the S.S. China and arrived in Honolulu on June 20, 1902. Genjiro worked as a laborer on sugar plantation near Ewa. Both Genichi and his brother, Tsutomu, served in the U.S. Army.
Billy, as Genichi was known, was educated at Benjamin Parker High School in Kaneohe, Oahu. Before entering the service, he was employed as a carpenter for the U.S. Engineers Department at Bellows Field. Hiraoka registered for the draft on December 19, 1942, Local Board No. 1 at Benjamin Parker School. At the time he was living with his family on Keole Road and working at the airport at Kualoa. His point of contact was his brother Tsutomu; he was 5’8½” tall and weighed 132 lbs.
Genichi William Hiraoka enlisted in the U.S. Army in Kaneohe on March 25, 1943. He was sent to the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks with the other recruits. They were given an aloha farewell ceremony by the community on March 28 at Iolani Palace. On April 4, the new soldiers left on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco enroute to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Following basic training, Genichi was assigned to 3rd Battalion, I Company.
After over a year at Camp Shelby, the 442nd left for Virginia on April 22, 1944. They shipped out to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations on May 2 in a large convoy of troop ships and arrived in Naples, Italy, the end of the month.
On June 26, 1944, the 442nd entered combat in the Rome-Arno Campaign. Two weeks later, on July 10 and July 11, 1944, they had advanced into Tuscany and were north of the Cecina River. The objective was a road that ran west from the town of Pomaja toward the sea and was instrumental in the German’s movement along the battlefront. Resistance by the Germans was stiff. Pfc. Hiraoka was killed during the series of battles on July 11 in the area of Pomaja. It was exactly two months before his 20th birthday.
Battle casualties were buried in the nearest U.S. Military Cemetery as soon as practicable. Closest to Pomaja was the cemetery at Vada, and that is likely where Pfc. Hiraoka was interred.
His family held his memorial service at the Parker Memorial Methodist Church in Kaneohe on August 6, 1944. An Army Chaplain assisted Rev. C.P. Goto in officiating.
For his military service, Private First Class Genichi William Hiraoka was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze star, World War II Victory Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge. Hiraoka 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.
In 1948, the remains of American soldiers buried overseas began slowly to return to the U.S. if the family so wished. As a result, on April 21, 1949, Pfc. Genichi William Hiraoka arrived home. The USAT Sergeant Jack J. Pendleton brought the caskets of 134 soldiers, arriving at Honolulu Harbor’s Kapalama Basin. There were hundreds of family and friends present to attend the dockside service. The Secretary of Hawaii, Oren E. Long, officiated, the 264th Army Band played hymns, and military Chaplains participated. One of the Chaplains was Hiro Higuchi, who had served in the 442nd with the men who were returning home that day. The caskets were stored in the Army mausoleum on Oahu pending final burial arrangements.
On September 19 and 20, 1949, there were 30 burials of Hawaii’s sons at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in Honolulu. Pfc. Genkichi “Billy” Hiraoka was among them. His burial was at 11:00 a.m. on September 20, in Section Q, Site 1230. His flat granite grave marker was ordered on February 23, 1950, from West Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
Excerpts taken from In Freedom’s Cause: A Record of the Men of Hawaii Who Died in the Second World War (1949) with permission from The University of Hawaii Press.
Original Biography prepared by Americans of Japanese Ancestry World War II Memorial Alliance, and provided courtesy of Japanese American Living Legacy (http://www.jalivinglegacy.org/).
Researched and rewritten by 442nd S&D 6/4/2021.