Long Overdue Silver Star Awarded to WWII Soldier
April 13, 2012
The 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team of mainly Japanese-American soldiers are well known as the most decorated units from World War II for their size and length of service.
Sixty-seven years later, that bravery still is being tallied.
|Silver Star Medal|
On Tuesday in his Honolulu office, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye presented the Silver Star, the military's third highest combat award for valor, to the family of Tech. Sgt. ROBERT Y. OZAKI for leading a bayonet charge against German forces in Italy in 1943. The audacious act was undertaken on the spur of the moment to rescue a popular lieutenant who was feared captured, and is recorded in history as perhaps the first American bayonet charge of the war in Italy.
"I apologize, on behalf of the Congress, for having taken this long to recognize your (uncle's) contributions," Inouye told the soldier's nephew, also named Robert, and other Ozaki family members.
Inouye, who lost his arm attacking German machine-gun positions in the war with the "Go For Broke" 442nd, told the family: "It's a high honor for me to present this."
"You can't help but recall those days," Hawaii's senior senator said right after the ceremony. "You don't quite forget blood."
That blood was spent in defense of the United States as 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to detention camps during the war years.
ROBERT OZAKI, a Kaimuki boy, boxer and athlete who graduated from 'Iolani School, fought in World War II as his brother was interned in American detention camps. The soldier's bravery was known within the ranks of the 100th Battalion, but not to his family in Hawaii until the Ozakis brought Robert home and reburied him in 2011 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific with his parents.
ROBERT OZAKI died on May 25, 1945, in a Colorado hospital at the age of 25 and was buried in a cemetery there. The soldier had suffered a neck wound that became infected, his nephew said. Ozaki left in the summer of 1942 with the 100th Battalion never to return to Hawaii -- until he was reburied here last year.
"This all started with the effort to re-inter him and bring him home," said nephew Robert Ozaki. "To do that, and working with the cemetery (in Colorado), they needed his military record, proof of service, and that led us to search for all this stuff." Those records were lost in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis that destroyed about 16 million to 18 million military files.
Sgt. Ozaki never married, and his parents and two sisters and brother had died. His older brother Kenneth (nephew Robert's father) had been imprisoned in California and met his wife, May, at a detention center in Colorado, Camp Amache.
Ozaki, president of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, said he enlisted the aid of friend and retired Judge Thomas Kaulukukui, who also is chairman of the trust's board and a Vietnam War platoon sergeant. He recalled going to the 100th Battalion clubhouse seeking information about his uncle and hearing stories -- for the first time -- about the war hero's bayonet charge. "We recognized from the history that it was a valorous act that had not been recognized," Kaulukukui said. Eventually, sworn statements were obtained from three soldiers who were aware of Sgt. Ozaki's actions, including ROBERT TAKASHIGE, TAKASHI KITAOKA and SONSEI NAKAMURA, who took part in the bayonet charge.
According to Thomas Murphy in "Ambassadors in Arms," the 100th Battalion in the fall of 1943 was part of an American night drive to cross the Volturno River in Italy and move against the Germans in Roccaravindola and Santa Maria Olivetto. Lt. YOUNG OK KIM was ahead of Company B on a dirt road when enemy bullets whistled by and he disappeared in the darkness. Ozaki, the platoon sergeant, thought Kim had been wounded or captured. "As Ozaki ordered his platoon to fix bayonets for attack the word spread down the line, and when Ozaki's men charged screaming across wall and road a good part of the rest of the company went along," Murphy wrote.
Some say Ozaki ordered the bayonet charge because he didn't want his soldiers' fire to be spotted in the darkness and draw return fire.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Nakamura, now 96, who was part of the Nov. 3, 1943, charge. "All the excitement going on, fix bayonets, a lot of noise, and everybody starting to move forward."
Kim, it turned out, had fallen down an embankment and had not been captured, and the German forces retreated.
Fifteen Ozaki family members, young and old, attended the Silver Star presentation and thanked Inouye for his efforts. "He did the bayonet charge," said 10-year-old Tyson Ozaki of his great-great uncle. "I thought it was pretty cool."