Kazuo Otani was born an American citizen to Japanese immigrant parents in Visalia, California on June 2, 1918. He was drafted into the United States Army on February 16, 1942. Not long afterwards, his family was interned in the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona.
Otani served with the 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei unit made up of second-generation Japanese-Americans.
On July 15, 1944 near Pieve Di Santa Luce, Italy, then Staff Sergeant Otani charged alone under intense machine gun fire to eliminate a Nazi sniper who was inflicting numerous casualties on his platoon. After rallying his troops into a covered defensive position, he was killed by enemy fire while trying to render aid to a wounded comrade.
At the time, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. During the 1990’s review of service records of Japanese-Americans, Otani was identified as one of the heroes whose award would be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The Medal was presented to his surviving family at the White House by President Bill Clinton on June 21, 2000.
Citation: Staff Sergeant Kazuo Otani distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 15 July 1944, near Pieve Di S. Luce, Italy. Advancing to attack a hill objective, Staff Sergeant Otani’s platoon became pinned down in a wheat field by concentrated fire from enemy machine gun and sniper positions. Realizing the danger confronting his platoon, Staff Sergeant Otani left his cover and shot and killed a sniper who was firing with deadly effect upon the platoon. Followed by a steady stream of machine gun bullets, Staff Sergeant Otani then dashed across the open wheat field toward the foot of a cliff, and directed his men to crawl to the cover of the cliff. When the movement of the platoon drew heavy enemy fire, he dashed along the cliff toward the left flank, exposing himself to enemy fire. By attracting the attention of the enemy, he enabled the men closest to the cliff to reach cover. Organizing these men to guard against possible enemy counterattack, Staff Sergeant Otani again made his way across the open field, shouting instructions to the stranded men while continuing to draw enemy fire. Reaching the rear of the platoon position, he took partial cover in a shallow ditch and directed covering fire for the men who had begun to move forward. At this point, one of his men became seriously wounded. Ordering his men to remain under cover, Staff Sergeant Otani crawled to the wounded soldier who was lying on open ground in full view of the enemy. Dragging the wounded soldier to a shallow ditch, Staff Sergeant Otani proceeded to render first aid treatment, but was mortally wounded by machine gun fire. Staff Sergeant Otani’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.