Joseph L. Byrne
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, I Company
Joseph “Joe” Laurence Byrne, son of Laurence and Alice Dalton Byrne, was born on August 24, 1917 in Elmira, New York. He was one of three siblings—John D., Joseph L., and Mary Alice. He attended St. Mary’s Elementary School and graduated from Southside High School. Joseph was a member of the Boy Scouts of America. After graduating high school, he was in furniture sales, but aspired to have a career in the Army.
In October 1940, Captain Joseph L. Byrne was inducted into the U.S. Army and received his basic training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He served with the 108th Infantry, Company L and was stationed at Fort Ord, California and also later at Schofield Barracks, Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. He went on to become the Captain of Company I, 3rd Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese American Nisei soldiers, who fought to prove their loyalty to their country. Along with the 100th Battalion (Separate), the 442nd RCT would become the most decorated unit for its size in the United States military history.
Notwithstanding his height of 6 foot 6 inches, the highly respected Capt. Joseph Byrne was considered a giant in the men’s eyes. Written by Dorothy Matsuo in Boyhood to War, “ . . . One soldier declared: ‘If there’s any officer that you’d be willing to die for, it would be Capt. Byrne. Byrne had served in Hawaii as an enlisted man. He went to Officer Candidate School before joining the 442nd. He knew the men’s names and, as they put it, ‘he was one haole that could pronounce buddhahead names.’. . . .”
Capt. Byrne fought shoulder-to-shoulder with his men in Italy and France, and Thelma Chang in I Can Never Forget: Men of the 100th/442nd wrote, “ . . . ‘Byrne knew the Hawaii boys from the time he was stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu,’ said I Company’s Minoru Suzumoto. ‘Byrne stuck by us all the way. He was a classy guy.’ . . . .”
In Honor by Fire written by Lyn Crost, “ . . . The Nisei loved Joe Byrne . . . He had known Japanese Americans ever since his Army service in Hawaii before the War. He was one Army Caucasian who knew how to pronounce their sometimes complicated names. The Nisei knew they could count on Byrne to be with them in any situation. When I Company faced Banzai Hill during the fight to rescue the Lost Battalion, Byrne grabbed a BAR from a fallen soldier and charged with them up the hill, his tall figure a sure target during this all-out frontal assault. For his valor that day he won a Silver Star. Soon afterward Byrne was killed by a Bouncing Betty mine. But I Company men would never forget him. They chipped in and bought a loving cup, had it inscribed in his memory, and presented it, along with his Silver Star, to his older brother, a West Pointer . . . .”
Capt. Joseph Byrne was killed in action by a mine blast on October 30, 1944, one day before they reached the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Forest in France.
For his military service, Captain Joseph Byrne received the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, WWII Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Distinguished Unit Badge.
Joseph Byrne 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.
Captain Joseph Byrne is interred at the United States Military Cemetery in Epinal, France.
Katherine Baishiki/Colonel John D. Byrne
12/25/01 (revised 5/1/03)
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/)