Gordon Kenshi Yamashiro
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, K Company
Gordon Kenshi Yamashiro was born on October 26, 1921, in Kapaa, Kauai, Territory of Hawaii. One of ten children of Matsu and Masu (Iha) Yamashiro, his siblings were: brothers Kensuke, Kenji, George, and Take; and sisters Ruth Kiyoko, Florence Setsuko, Mildred, Shizue, and Nancy.
His parents emigrated from the village of Misato, Nakugami District, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. Matsu worked as a laborer for the Makeo Sugar Company on Kauai. By 1940, he was working for the Lihue Plantation Company at Kapaa.
Kenshi graduated from Kapaa High School, and then enrolled in the University of Hawaii (UH). On February 16, 1942, he registered for the draft at Local Board No. 5 in Honolulu. At the time, he was working for the U.S. Engineer Department at Fort Ruger, and living at 1293 Nuuanu Street in Honolulu. His point of contact was Dr. Yoshio Yamashiro at 2206 Wilder Avenue. He was 5’8” tall and weighed 145 pounds.
Kenshi left UH to enlist in the U. S. Army on March 25, 1943. The record states that he had one year of college and was employed as a carpenter’s apprentice. He was sent to Boom Town, the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks where all the recent volunteers were housed. On March 28, they were given an aloha farewell ceremony by the community at Iolani Palace. On April 4, they left on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco.
After arriving on the mainland, Kenshi and the rest of the new soldiers were sent by train to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training, arriving on April 18. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, K Company. On November 20, 1943, it was reported in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that he was promoted to the rank of Corporal at Camp Shelby.
After a year of basic and unit training, the 442nd left Camp Shelby for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944. They shipped out to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in a large convoy of troop ships from nearby Hampton Roads on May 2 and arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28. The 442nd entered battle near Suvereto north of Rome on June 26. Kenshi fought in the Rome-Arno Campaign, up the western side of Italy, driving the German Army north of the Arno River.
By mid-July, the Combat Team was north of the Cecina River and east of the important port of Livorno. On July 16, 3rd Battalion’s objective was the little hilltop town of Luciana. It was now evident that the enemy was abandoning Livorno and moving north to his Arno River defenses. But so long as he held this high ground east of the port, the Americans could not occupy Livorno.
K Company made a frontal attack on Luciana. As night fell, advance elements of the company had gained a toehold in perhaps one-quarter of the town. The attack continued on July 17 with K Company in the thick of fierce fighting. S/Sgt. Gordon Yamashiro distinguished himself as follows:
When an enemy machine gun nest in a building pinned down and halted the advance of his platoon during the attack on Luciana, Sergeant Yamashiro on his own initiative ran diagonally across the machine gun’s sector of fire with the intention of knocking it out with a hand grenade. Enemy bullets missed him by inches and as he reached a corner of the building enemy snipers opened up on him. Undeterred, Sergeant Yamashiro threw a hand grenade through the window, killing two and wounding three of the enemy and wiping out the machine gun nest. Sergeant Yamashiro’s aggressiveness and daring broke a one-hour stalemate and led to the capture of Luciana itself later that evening.
For these actions, S/Sgt. Gordon K. Yamashiro was awarded the Silver Star Medal, per General Orders No. 110, Headquarters, 34th Infantry Division, on October 21, 1944.
The port of Livorno fell on July 18 as 3rd Battalion seized the next town north, Colle Salvetti, the last high ground before the Arno River.
On September 27, 1944, the 442nd was pulled out of the battle lines and sent by ship to Marseilles, France. They next traveled north 500 miles to the battlefront in northeastern France to join the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign.
Their first objective was to liberate the important rail and road junction of Bruyères in the Vosges Mountains. The intense battles to liberate Bruyères and neighboring Biffontaine lasted from October 16 to24. The 442nd had experienced mainly prairie in Italy, but the Vosges Mountains provided a very different terrain. The unit – still in their summer uniforms – faced cold, dense fog, mud, heavy rain, heavily forested hills, and intense enemy gunfire and artillery, while moving through the Vosges.
After three days, Bruyères fell, followed by Biffontaine. After eight days of heavy fighting, the 442nd was taken off the front lines and given a rest break in nearby Belmont. Their rest was cut short when on October 26, after just two days of rest, they were ordered to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry Regiment, who had moved beyond their line of support and were surrounded on three sides by the Germans. Unable to extricate themselves, attempts to rescue them by the other battalions of the 141st had not been successful.
On October 27, 3rd Battalion moved out at 4:00 a.m. Their attack moved very slowly, meeting heavy resistance. At 3:30 p.m., K Company was counter-attacked and the fighting was severe. By evening, the Germans pulled back and 3rd Battalion did not pursue them as it was impossible to maintain control in the dark.
The following morning, October 28, the attack resumed against heavy resistance by the enemy. The 3rd Battalion ran into the first of a series of manned German roadblocks. These were primarily antitank barriers each manned by a company of infantry. At this point, K Company’s advance was stopped by enemy fire from several machine guns, riflemen, and grenadiers. S/Sgt. Gordon Yamashiro advanced alone to locate the enemy positions. After single-handedly killing a sniper and the crew of two machine gun nests, he was laying down a screen of fire to cover the advance of his squad when he was killed by a sniper. He had, however, succeeded in opening a gap in the enemy’s defenses. The rescue of the “lost battalion” was affected two days later, on October 30, 1944.
Pfc. Yamashiro was interred in the U.S. Military Cemetery at nearby Epinal, France. On February 18, 1945, it was reported in the Honolulu Advertiser that his Purple Heart Medal had recently been presented to his father, Matsui Yamashiro, in Kapaa, Kauai.
On March 24, 1945, per General Orders No. 18, Headquarters 6th Army Group, the Distinguished Service Cross was posthumously awarded to Staff Sergeant Gordon Yamashiro, Infantry, Company K, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The Citation reads:
…for extraordinary heroism in action on 28 October 1944 near Biffontaine, France. Sergeant Yamashiro’s company was advancing against dominating enemy positions when it was suddenly pinned down by the crossfire of two machine guns supported by riflemen and grenadiers. Immediately sizing up the dangerous situation, he deployed his squad to cover his movements and advanced alone to espy the enemy positions. After determining the probable source of the enemy fire, he advanced 100 yards, killed a sniper who fired at him and missed, then neutralized with BAR fire one of the gun positions by killing three of its crew members. Continuing his audacious movements under fire for the second gun position, he killed the two gunners, thus neutralizing the emplacement. While engaged in laying down a protective screen of fire for his company’s subsequent advance, Sergeant Yamashiro was fatally shot by an enemy sniper. Next of kin: Matsu Yamashiro (Father), Honolulu
For his military service, Staff Sergeant Gordon Kenshi Yamashiro was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Distinguished Unit Badge.
In 1948, the remains of Americans buried overseas began slowly to return to the US, if the family so wished. According to his family’s wish, Gordon was brought home.
On September 1, 1948, Staff Sergeant Gordon Kenshi Yamashiro was among 78 soldiers whose remains arrived in Honolulu from San Francisco on the USAT Dalton Victory at Pier 40 at 1:00 p.m. This was the first of the ships bearing Hawaii’s fallen sons to return home.
Right: Chaplain Higuchi with memorial wreath
Earlier that morning in waters off Diamond Head, the Coast Guard cutter Iroquois and the Navy destroyer escort George circled the choppy seas to meet the Dalton Victory. Four 442nd veterans were aboard the Iroquois and each dropped a giant orchid, rose, and anthurium wreath into the ocean next to the Dalton. As the ship entered the harbor, a 21-gun salute was fired from Fort Armstrong, and Army, Navy, and Marine planes flew overhead. As the ship docked at Pier 40, church bells tolled throughout Honolulu.
Hundreds of family and friends were there to greet the ship. George Miki, President of the 442nd Veterans Club, and Earl Finch of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, were on the dock to welcome the soldiers home and talk to the parents who were awaiting the arrival of the ship. The flag-draped caskets were taken to the Army mausoleum at Schofield Barracks pending burial arrangements.
The following day there was a memorial processional with the caskets of two anonymous soldiers carried on caissons through downtown Honolulu to a service at Iolani Palace, where they later lay in state in the Throne Room.
Staff Sergeant Gordon Kenshi Yamashiro was returned to Kauai on the inter-island steamer Hualalai, along with five other veterans. They were reinterred in October 1948 at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery in Hanapepe in the same ceremony: Pfc. Larry M. Imamura, S/Sgt. Nobuo Kokame and Pvt. Albert Silva of Waimea, and T/Sgt. Yoshio Minami, Pvt. Iwao Takemoto, and Pvt. Gordon Yamashiro. Chaplain Hiro Higuchi delivered the service, and the ceremony was under the auspices of the Kauai Veterans Club and Kauai Post No. 2 of the American Legion.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2022.