The following article was originally published in the Go For Broke Bulletin, Vol. XLVIII, No. 3, July-September, 1997. Under M Company’s “Mike Memoirs”, its contributors were Shiro Aoki, Mikers, Grace and Hiroshi Yamashiro, Dick Tochihara, and Yori and Shige Inouye.
Meet Barney Hajiro
For the heroic actions taken in the Vosges mountain in France, Barney Hajiro was recommended for the Medal of Honor. Like every other such recommendation the 100th/442nd had submitted it was downgraded to a DSC (Distinguish Service Cross). Now more than fifty years later, it is with high hopes that his DSC award will be upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor. To get better acquainted with Barney and some of his heroic deeds, excerpts from various publications are complied and reprinted here.
In Camp Shelby Barney Hajiro was in M Company and will be remembered as a “classy boxer” as compared to some “PX brawlers” the company was noted to have. During the summer of 1944 in Italy, Barney witnessed a street fight between an Italian civilian and a Nisei soldier. In Thelma Chang’s book “I Can Never Forget” Barney relates the incident saying, “This is in enemy territory now- Italy was a fascist country at the time- so I jumped in to help the guy. It was a fist fight. I didn’t want to see an American soldier get a licking. Because I helped, a Caucasian MP caught me, took me to my Company, and I got a summary court martial. The Army taught us to kill or be killed, but not on the streets. Next thing I knew, I was transferred to I Company where I didn’t know anyone, and was given a Browning Automatic, one of the most dangerous, powerful weapon of the time. I remember feeling real sad about leaving my friends in M Company, I was a messenger and Tadao Beppu, another Maui boy, was my platoon sergeant.”
Hajiro made friends in I Company, many of whom were with him during the charge on October 29. There was Mainland-born Eiichi Haita, who used to carry Hajiro’s 20 rounds of BAR ammunition. “Eiichi had a beard and didn’t like to shave”, Hajiro recalled. “Portagee Matsunami used to call him ‘Mauldin’, after Bill Mauldin, the wartime cartoonist who had a beard”.
There was Takeyasu Onaga, a bazooka man who used to take care of his fun-loving, beer-drinking friend, Barney. “I was a goof-off from M Company where I use to end up in KP all the time. Onaga kept me out of trouble”. He also use to check and load Hajiro’s BAR. “Onaga looked sad that day”, said Hajiro. “He knew the battle was going to be rough, that you cannot get up. Once you got up the Germans shot you because they were waiting”.
German guns usually found their mark, “Snipers were getting our guys in the forehead”, said Joe Shimamura, K Company. “They must have had a telescopic rifle. This is why nobody wanted to get up”.
Nevertheless, the riflemen rose to their feet, charging and falling in great numbers. German machine guns rained fire on the men whenever they moved. “I thought I had it at the time because I felt bullets hitting the ground besides me”, said Goro Matsumoto. “I happened to look at the right of me and got a glimpse of something falling from a tree and it exploded right on top of our men- a German potato masher. At that moment, the guys from our 2nd and 3rd platoons kept yelling at us to move. I guess it gave us the extra something and we all charged. Was I surprised when we came upon the German machine gunner- he was just 10 feet in front of us. We ended up right on the road with some 2nd and 3rd platoon guys. In front of us, not more than 15 yards away, was a German tank slowly moving backward. We yelled for the bazooka man and Onaga came running down the hill. His hand grasping his neck, his other hand towards us. The medic standing by us told Onaga to lie down. The next minute he was dead, shot in the neck. That was the last we saw of the German tank”.
During the assault, bullets slammed into Hajiro’s left side- his cheek, shoulder, and forearm. At some point his weapon flew. “I was stunned- I couldn’t find my BAR”, Hajiro said. “I heard the medic telling me to get down. The medic didn’t want to stand up. Me, I was stunned already. I didn’t care for life already. At that time I didn’t care…all that blood. I was disgusted with life. I walked back. I remembered seeing Colonel Pursall by a tree with a pistol in his hand. I told him, ‘Let’s go up’. Then the medic pulled me down.
Lyn Crost describes the incident in her book “Honor by Fire”. Then Pvt. Barney Hajiro of I Company, a BAR man, was on his feet and starting up the hill. He fired as he went, killing Germans in their foxholes, destroying single-handedly two machine gun nests and killing the gunners, killing two snipers who fired at him. It was like a spontaneous combustion. K and I Companies came charging out of their covers, running up the hill, shooting from the hip. When men fell others took their places. When wounded, they staggered on, shooting, always advancing. Dead and wounded Nisei lay in enemy holes besides dead Germans outside enemy dugouts, across enemy gun barrels. German forces that had been so confident just 30 minutes before threw down their weapons and fled, scattering guns, ammunition, and clothes as they sought to escape the onslaught. There was no counterattack. Someone later named the area “Banzai Hill”. For the Nisei, it was a hill of death.
It was the afternoon of October 30th, 1944 when Tak Senzaki’s platoon of I Company led by scouts Mutt Sakumoto and Henry Nakada made contact with the men of the “Lost Battalion”.
I Company suffered many casualties. In the days leading up to the rescue of the Lost Battalion and few days following, records show that the following seventeen I Company men died between October 21st and November 5th: Nobuo Amakawa, Joseph L. Byrne, Akira Fukuda, John Harano, Ben Inakazu, Kosaku Isobe, Goro Matsumoto, Isamu Minatodani, Susumu Okura, Takeyasu Onaga, Choyei Oshiro, Sam Oshiro, Shigeo Tabuchi, Shigeo Taketa, Larry Tanimoto, Harry Yamasaki, and Chiyoaki Yamauchi.
Barney Hajiro’s recommendation for the Medal of Honor was downgraded. British officers, however, didn’t forget what they had witnessed Hajiro do, not only that day but for the actions that led to the capture of Bruyeres. Four years later, on November 1, 1948, in a formal ceremony Hajiro was awarded the British Military Medal.
In June of 2000, President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to Barney Hajiro. In all, the 100th/442nd has 21 Medal of Honor recipients.