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This Day in History: Yeiki Kobashigawa's bravery in Italy

On this day in 2005, a hero passes away. Yeiki Kobashigawa served our country bravely during World War II, risking his life repeatedly on a battlefield in Italy. The Hawaiian-born Japanese American would eventually receive a Medal of Honor for his actions.

Kobashigawa had been working on a sugar plantation when he was drafted into the Army late in 1941. Just a few short weeks later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That attack made life difficult for all Japanese Americans, of course, but it created special difficulties for those who were already in the military.

“When Pearl Harbor was attacked,” the National World War II Museum explains, “[Kobashigawa] rushed from his baseball game back to his training base only to have his rifle taken away. Some Japanese Americans, already serving in the military, spent time in limbo after Pearl Harbor, kept outside of combat roles in a legal no-man’s land.”

“I don’t know what they thought we would do,” shrugged Kobashigawa when he was later asked about it.

Eventually Kobashigawa and other Nisei (children of Japanese immigrants) were transferred into a separate unit, the 100th Infantry Battalion. The 100th was dispatched across the Atlantic to fight in the European theater of the war because they weren’t then trusted to fight in the Pacific.

Naturally, the Nisei responded with hard work: They loved their country and worked hard to prove it.

Then-Technical Sergeant Kobashigawa’s heroism came on June 2, 1944, when his platoon was ambushed by German forces in Italy. Our men were taking repeated hits from the enemy, hidden in machine gun nests.

Kobashigawa wasn’t going to just sit there and be fired upon. He and one of his men crawled toward a nest, but Kobashigawa took the final plunge toward that nest, throwing a grenade then charging with his submachine gun while his fellow soldier provided covering fire. He repeated this move three times. By the time he was done, he’d taken out four enemy nests and captured six of the enemy.

His move initially earned him a Distinguished Service Cross and a battlefield commission, but a review in the 1990s concluded that the Cross should have been a Medal.

It must have been a surprise to receive a call from the Secretary of the Army all those years later? But Kobashigawa wasn’t particularly interested in the Medal. “He said, ‘That was more than 50 years ago,’” Kobashigawa’s son, Merle, later recalled. Kobashigawa thought the Army should just put the Medal in the mail.

An unusual response, perhaps, but Kobashigawa hadn’t done any of this for Medals or honors. He’d acted as he had simply for love of country and his fellow soldiers. Indeed, he’d never even told his own children that he’d received a Distinguished Service Cross. Merle knew of that honor by accident: His daughter went on a field trip in D.C. and happened to see her grandfather’s name listed on a display with other Cross recipients.

Yet another member of the Greatest Generation, giving all he had to give.

Rest in peace, Sir.

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