Medals of Honor Bestowed on 10 Asian Pacific Americans
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- The United States bestowed its highest military
medal for bravery on 10 Asian Pacific Americans between 1911 and
Filipino Pvt. Jose B. Nisperos was the first Pacific Islander to
be awarded the Medal of Honor. He received the award for valor
during the Philippine Insurrection while serving in the U.S.
Army's 34th Company, Philippine Scouts.
During an action on Sept. 24, 1911, at Lapurap, Basilan,
Philippines, according to his citation, Nisperos was so badly
wounded he couldn't stand. His left arm was broken and lacerated
and he suffered several spear wounds in the body. But he
"continued firing his rifle with one hand until the enemy was
repulsed, thereby helping prevent the annihilation of his party
and the mutilation of their bodies," the citation states.
Nisperos was a native of San Fernandos Union, Philippines.
Filipino Navy Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo Trinidad received the
Medal of Honor for heroism following a boiler explosion aboard
the USS San Diego on Jan. 21, 1915.
"Trinidad was driven out of fire room No. 2 by the explosion, but
at once returned and picked up Fireman 2nd Class R.E. Daly, whom
he saw to be injured, and proceeded to bring him out," the
citation states. "While coming into fire room No. 4, Trinidad was
just in time to catch the explosion in fire room No. 3. Without
consideration for his own safety, Trinidad passed Daly on and
then assisted in rescuing another injured man from fire room No.
3. His face was severely burned by the blast from the explosion
fire room No. 3."
Trinidad was a native of New Washington Capig, Philippines.
Two Asian Pacific Americans received the Medal of Honor during
World War II, Sgt. Jose Calugas and Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori.
Calugas was honored for action on Jan. 16, 1942, near Culis,
Bataan Province, Philippines. He was a member of the Philippine
Scouts' 88th Field Artillery.
"A battery gun position was bombed and shelled by the enemy until
one gun was put out of commission and all the cannoneers were
killed or wounded," the citation stated. "Sgt. Calugas, a mess
sergeant of another battery, voluntarily and without orders ran
more than 1,000 yards across the shell-swept areas to the gun
"There he organized a volunteer squad which placed the gun back
into commission and fired effectively against the enemy, although
the position remained under constant and heavy Japanese artillery
fire," the citation continued.
Calugas was a native of Barrio Tagsing, Leon, Hoilo, Philippine
Islands. He later retired as a U.S. Army captain and died in
February 1998 in Tacoma, Wash., at age 90.
Munemori, a native of Los Angeles, was awarded the Medal of Honor
posthumously for gallantry on April 5, 1945, near Seravezza,
Italy. He was a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd
Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese American outfit
originally formed in Hawaii.
When his unit was pinned down by grazing enemy fire and the
outfit's leader lay wounded, Munemori took over and made frontal,
one-man attacks through direct fire and knocked out two machine
guns with grenades, the citation read.
"Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades, he had
nearly reached a shell crater occupied by two of his men when an
unexploded grenade bounced on his helmet and rolled toward his
helpless comrades," the citation continued. "He rose into the
withering fire, dived for the missile and smothered its blast
with his body. By his swift, supremely heroic action, Pfc.
Munemori saved two of his men at the cost of his own life and did
much to clear the path for his company's victorious advance."
Six Asian Pacific American soldiers from Hawaii received the
Medal of Honor during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
During the Korean War, the Medal of Honor was accorded Cpl.
Hiroshi H. Miyamura of Gallup, N.M.; Sgt. Leroy A. Mendonca of
Honolulu, Hawaii; and Pfc. Herbert K. Pililaau of Waianae, Oahu,
Miyamura was awarded the medal for gallantry in action against
the enemy near Taejon-ni, Korea, on April 24 and 25, 1951,
according to the Medal of Honor citation. He was fighting with
Company H, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
On the night of April 24, the enemy threatened to overrun the
company's defenses. Miyamura, a machine gun squad leader,
"unhesitatingly jumped from his shelter, wielding his bayonet in
close hand-to-hand combat, killing about 10 enemy soldiers," the
Returning to his position, he administered first aid to the
wounded and directed their evacuation. "As another savage assault
hit the line, he manned his machine gun and delivered withering
fire until his ammunition was expended," read the citation. "He
ordered the squad to withdraw while he stayed behind to render
the gun inoperative. He then bayoneted his way through
infiltrated enemy soldiers to a second gun emplacement and
assisted in its operation."
The intensity of the enemy attack forced the company to withdraw,
but Miyamura covered the men's withdrawal. "He killed more than
50 of the enemy before his ammunition ran out," the citation
Although severely wounded, Miyamura continued to repel the attack
until his position was overrun. "When last seen, he was fighting
ferociously against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers,"
his citation reads. Actually, while trying to rejoin his friends,
he tried to play dead until a group of enemy soldiers passed his
position. One saw through his ruse and captured him.
Miyamura's Medal of Honor was approved in December 1951, but kept
secret for his safety until his repatriation on Aug. 20, 1953.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented him the medal in a White
House ceremony on Oct. 27, 1953.
Mendonca was cited for conspicuous gallantry in action against
the enemy near Chich-on, Korea, on July 4, 1951, according to the
citation. Mendonca was killed during the battle.
"After his platoon, in an exhaustive fight, had captured Hill
586, the newly won positions were assaulted during the night by a
numerically superior enemy force," the citation continued. "When
the 1st Platoon positions were outflanked and under great
pressure and the platoon was ordered to withdraw to a secondary
line of defense, Sgt. Mendonca voluntarily remained in an exposed
position and covered the platoon's withdrawal.
"Although under murderous enemy fire, he fired his weapon and
hurled grenades at the out-rushing enemy until his supply of
ammunition was exhausted," the citation states. "He fought on,
clubbing with his rifle and using his bayonet until he was
After the action, it was estimated that Sgt. Mendonca, a member
of Company B, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, had
accounted for 37 enemy casualties.
"His daring actions stalled the crushing assault, protecting the
platoon withdrawal to secondary positions, and enabling the
entire unit to repel the enemy attack and retain possession of
the vital hilltop position," the citation read.
Pililaau, a member of Company C, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd
Infantry Division, earned the Medal of Honor on "Heartbreak
Ridge" near Pia-ri, Korea, on Sept. 17, 1951.
"The enemy sent wave after wave of fanatical troops against his
platoon, which held a key terrain feature on 'Heartbreak Ridge,'"
the citation said.
The company's ammunition nearly exhausted, Pililaau stayed behind
to cover the company's withdrawal. He fired his automatic weapon
into the ranks of the assailants, threw all his grenades and,
with ammunition exhausted, closed in hand-to-hand combat with his
trench knife and fists until falling mortally wounded.
During the Vietnam War, the medal was bestowed on Cpl. Terry
Teruo Kawamura of Wahiawa, Oahu, Hawaii; Staff Sgt. Elmelindo
Smith of Honolulu, Hawaii; and Sgt. 1st Class Rodney J.T. Yano of
Kealakekua Kona, Hawaii.
Kawamura perished while fighting enemy soldiers at Camp Radcliff,
Vietnam, on March 20, 1969. He served with the 173rd Engineer
Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
"An enemy demolition team infiltrated the unit quarters area and
opened fire with automatic weapons," the posthumous Medal of
Honor citation reads. "Disregarding the intense fire, Kawamura
ran for his weapon. At that moment, a violent explosion tore a
hole in the roof and stunned the occupants of the room. Kawamura
jumped to his feet, secured his weapon and, as he ran toward the
door to return enemy fire, he observed that another explosive
charge had been thrown through the hole in the roof. He
immediately realized that two stunned fellow soldiers were in
great peril and shouted a warning.
"Although in a position to escape, Kawamura unhesitatingly
wheeled around and threw himself on the charge. … preventing
serious injury or death to several members of his unit," the
Smith received the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroism during
a reconnaissance patrol with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th
Infantry Division, on Feb. 16, 1967.
His platoon was suddenly hemmed in on three sides by deadly
machine gun, mortar and rocket fire, the award citation states.
"Smith moved through the deadly fire along the defensive line,
positioning soldiers, distributing ammunition and encouraging his
men to repel the enemy attack," the citation reads. "Struck to
the ground by enemy fire, which caused a severe shoulder wound,
he regained his feet, killed the enemy soldier and continued to
move about the perimeter."
Wounded again in the shoulder and stomach, Smith started crawling
on his knees to assist in the defense. "Noting the enemy massing
at a weakened point on the perimeter, he crawled into the open
and poured deadly fire into the enemy ranks," the citation
Smith was stunned by a rocket, but regained consciousness minutes
later. "Drawing on his fast-dwindling strength, Smith continued
to crawl from man to man. When he could move no farther, he chose
to remain in the open where he could alert the perimeter to the
approaching enemy. Smith perished, never relenting in his
determined effort against the enemy.
"The valorous act and heroic leadership inspired those remaining
members of his platoon to beat back the enemy assaults," the
Yano was decorated posthumously for valor as a crew chief aboard
an 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment command-and-control helicopter
near Bien Hoa, Vietnam, on Jan. 1, 1969.
Enemy troops entrenched in dense jungle attacked the helicopter
with small arms and anti-aircraft fire, the Medal of Honor
citation notes. "From an exposed position in the face of intense
small arms and anti-aircraft fire, Yano delivered suppressive
fire upon the enemy forces and marked their positions with smoke
and white phosphorous grenades. This enabled his troop commander
to direct accurate and effective artillery fire against the
hostile emplacement," the citation stated.
A grenade exploded prematurely, covering Yano with burning
phosphorous and leaving him severely wounded. Flaming fragments
within the helicopter caused supplies and ammunition to detonate.
Dense white smoke filled the aircraft, obscuring the pilot's
vision and causing him to lose control, the citation continued.
Though he'd lost the use of one arm and was partly blinded, "Sgt.
Yano completely disregarded his welfare and began hurling blazing
ammunition from the helicopter," the citation states. "In so
doing, he inflicted additional wounds upon himself, he persisted
until the danger was past. His indomitable courage and profound
concern for his comrades averted loss of life and additional
injury to the rest of the crew."
| || Army Sgt. Jose Calugas. Photo courtesy Medal of
| || Staff Sgt. Elmelindo R. Smith. Photo courtesy Medal
of Honor Society
| || Cpl. Terry T. Kawamura. Photo courtesy Medal of
| || Pfc Herbert K. Pililaau. Photo courtesy Medal of
| || Sgt. 1st Class Rodney J.T. Yano. Photo courtesy
| || A 1977 George Akimoto painting of Korean War Medal
of Honor recipient Army Cpl. Hiroshi H. Miyamura. Photo courtesy
Army Art Collection, U.S. Army Center for Military History.
| || World War II Philippine Scouts Medal of Honor
recipient Sgt. Jose Calugas. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Center for
| || Cpl. Hiroshi H. Miyamura. Photo courtesy National
| || Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori. Photo courtesy National