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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 13, 2005

Yeiki Kobashigawa, World War II hero

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Yeiki Kobashigawa, a Medal of Honor recipient from Wai'anae who fought with the famed 100th Battalion in World War II, seldom spoke about his wartime service.

President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to Yeiki Kobashigawa of Wai'anae.

Advertiser library photo • June 21, 2000

His son, Merle, found out about his father's heroism when his daughter went on a field trip to Washington, D.C., and stumbled on her grandfather's name in a display of Distinguished Service Cross recipients.

"That was a different generation," the younger Kobashigawa said. "They were quiet, unassuming people."

On Wednesday the elder Kobashigawa's ashes will be interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific following a 49th-day memorial service at 11:30 a.m. He died March 31 at age 87.

Kobashigawa was born in Hilo on Sept. 28, 1917, and later moved to Wai'anae. Before World War II, he worked at the Wai'anae Sugar Plantation and played baseball for the plantation company and for Japanese-American leagues. Although he batted right-handed, his left-handed pitching and catching gained him the nickname "Lefty," his son said.

Kobashigawa joined the Army in November 1941, and after the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, saw service in Africa, Italy and France. He was promoted rapidly and regularly, and gained a chest full of medals and at least one bullet wound during the war.

Yeiki Kobashigawa
In June 1944, near Lanuvio, Italy, Kobashigawa's platoon was held back by a series of enemy machine gunners, according to the citation that accompanied his Medal of Honor.

He crawled toward the first machine-gun nest, tossed a grenade at the gunner and, while another soldier provided covering fire, charged the enemy position.

After taking out that nest, he and the other soldier moved in to take on the next, this time with Kobashigawa providing the covering fire and the other soldier making the charge.

Kobashigawa then discovered four more machine-gun nests and led a squad to neutralize two of them.

He returned to Wai'anae after the war and raised his family there, teaching his son to bat left-handed. He worked as a maintenance mechanic for Gaspro Hawaii and then for the Hawaiian Cement Co.

Merle Kobashigawa said that when Secretary of the Army Louis Calderato called his father in 2000 to tell him that President Clinton wanted to present him with the Medal of Honor, the elder Kobashigawa told Calderato to just put the medal in the mail.

"He said, 'That was more than 50 years ago,' " Merle Kobashigawa said.

His father had to be talked into going to Washington for the ceremony, he said. The ceremony bestowed the Medal of Honor on 22 Americans of Asian or Pacific Island ancestry who fought in World War II.

Kobashigawa is survived by his wife, Haruko; sons, Merle and Floyd; daughter, Jill Yamashiro; two grandchildren; brothers, Seichi and Richard; and a sister, Ruby.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.