WWII hero Shizuya Hayashi, 90
|Photo gallery: Shizuya Hayashi Remembered|
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Retired Army Pvt. Shizuya Hayashi, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000 during a ceremony on the White House lawn, died Wednesday morning. He was 90.
During World War II, Hayashi, of Pearl City, charged up a hill toward German positions on Nov. 29, 1943 and killed 20 enemy soldiers and captured four more near Cerasuolo, Italy. His actions in combat earned Hayashi a Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to a Medal of Honor 57 years later.
On June 22, 2000, President Clinton awarded the nation's highest military award for valor to Hayashi and 21 other Asian-American veterans of World War II, most of them from Hawai'i.
The seven surviving veterans, including Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, accepted the medals from Clinton, while families of the others received the medals in their memory.
Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka yesterday mourned Hayashi's passing.
"I remember Shizuya sat next to me during the White House ceremony when President Clinton presented us and about 20 others with the Medal of Honor," Inouye said. "It was a humbling experience, and it was made more touching and meaningful when I learned that Shizuya also shared my sentiment: That we were accepting this special honor on behalf of the men with whom we served, and especially those who did return home when the war ended.
"Shizuya Hayashi will always exemplify the legacy of the nisei soldiers: determined defenders committed to serving our country with honor — even when many of our own countrymen at that time doubted our patriotism and our willingness to serve in harm's way."
Akaka, D-Hawai'i, said he learned of Hayashi's death from Hayashi's daughter, Mimi Nakano, on Thursday.
"Mr. Hayashi's passing reminds us of the impact nisei veterans had on the history of our state and our country," Akaka said. "It was a time when our country was sending Americans to concentration camps just because they were Japanese.
"The valor and heroism of young soldiers like Shizuya Hayashi stood in stark contrast to what was happening at home."
Their segregated unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which included the 100th Infantry Battalion, became known for its bravery and motto, "Go For Broke!"
It became the most decorated unit of its size in American military history, with members receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and more than 9,000 Purple Hearts.
In 1996, a provision by Akaka directed the Army to review the war records of Asian-American veterans like Hayashi who had earned the Distinguished Service Cross, to determine whether they should have received the Medal of Honor. Normally, the statute of limitations on such awards expires within three years, so the Army had never reviewed their records.
Amanda Stevens, office manager of the 100th Battalion Veterans Club, yesterday said Hayashi "represented the best of the men. He wasn't a man of many words. But there was a deep strength in his eyes and a deep sincerity."
The club's president, Robert Arakaki, did not serve with Hayashi but "I thought he was a great man," he said. "I thought he had a strong heart — like an elephant."
Even when Hayashi was diagnosed with a brain tumor late last year, "he seemed strong," Arakaki said.
Hayashi was born in Hawai'i to Japanese immigrants on Nov. 28, 1917 and grew up on the Waialua Sugar Plantation.
Six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hayashi left the Islands in June 1942 for the first time. He and about 1,400 other Japanese-American soldiers first traveled by train to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin on their way to the European Theater.
On Nov. 29, 1943, two months into combat for the 100th Infantry Battalion, Hayashi took part in an assault on enemy forces on a hill near Cerasuolo, Italy.
Firing his automatic rifle from his hip, Hayashi charged through enemy grenade, rifle and machine-gun fire, killing seven men in the nest and two more as they fled.
"I was just standing up and shooting," Hayashi said in a June 2007 interview marking the 65th anniversary of the 100th Battalion. "See how crazy I was?"
After his platoon had caught up and advanced 200 more yards, the soldiers were met by fire from an anti-aircraft gun. Hayashi returned fire, killing nine, taking four prisoners and forcing the remainder of the force to withdraw from the hill.
He wasn't wounded, although a sniper's bullet grazed his neck.
"I never got hit," he said, smiling. "Amazing, yeah?"
Hayashi was sent to a hospital in November 1944 to treat a case of trench foot. He was discharged in July 1945.
But during his year in combat, Hayashi did not get critically wounded.
"When you don't get hit, you stay a long time," he said. "You wonder when you going get hit so you can rest."
Later in life, Hayashi toured the country as a Medal of Honor recipient and supported the efforts by the 100th Infantry Battalion veterans to keep their memories alive.
Looking back, Hayashi said he shared the medal with the other men of the 100th Battalion.
"I think the boys who never make it back deserve (one) just as much," he said. "There's nobody to recognize them."
Services for Hayashi are being handled by Hosoi Mortuary but were not finalized yesterday, the mortuary said. Hosoi officials did not immediately have a list of Hayashi's survivors yesterday.Staff writer Dennis Camire contributed to this report.
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.