Privates Barney F. Hajiro & George T. Sakato and the “Lost Battalion” (October 29, 1944)

On October 24, 1944, the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment – part of the 36th Infantry Division – was cut off and surrounded by the Nazis in France’s Vosges Mountains. Two attempts were made to break through to the unit known as the “Lost Battalion”. Those attempts failed.

On October 26, the all-Nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) 442nd Regimental Combat Team was ordered to break through to the Lost Battalion. Over five days of intense fighting, the 442nd finally saved about 230 of 1-141’s soldiers, and suffered at least 800 casualties in the process.

Two of the 442nd’s soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for their heroism during the battle.

Barney Fushimi Hajiro was born in Hawaii on September 16, 1916. He was drafted into the United States Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on February 1, 1942. He initially served in a non-combat engineering unit before volunteering for duty with the 442nd. His Medal of Honor also recognized two of his valorous acts prior to the rescue of the Lost Battalion on October 19 and 22, 1944.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

HAJIRO, BARNEY F.

Citation: Private Barney F. Hajiro distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 19, 22, and 29 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, eastern France. Private Hajiro, while acting as a sentry on top of an embankment on 19 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres, France, rendered assistance to allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers. On 22 October 1944, he and one comrade took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed, enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the remainder as prisoners. On 29 October 1944, in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Private Hajiro initiated an attack up the slope of a hill referred to as “Suicide Hill” by running forward approximately 100 yards under fire. He then advanced ahead of his comrades about 10 yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests. He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful. Private Hajiro’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit, and the United States Army.

Barney Hajiro had been the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient at the time of his death in Hawaii at age 94 on January 21, 2011. He was buried with full military honors in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

George Taro Sakato was born on February 19, 1921 in Colton, California. He voluntarily enlisted in the Army on March 4, 1944 and also volunteered for the 442nd RCT.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

SAKATO, GEORGE T.

Citation: Private George T. Sakato distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 29 October 1944, on hill 617 in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France. After his platoon had virtually destroyed two enemy defense lines, during which he personally killed five enemy soldiers and captured four, his unit was pinned down by heavy enemy fire. Disregarding the enemy fire, Private Sakato made a one-man rush that encouraged his platoon to charge and destroy the enemy strongpoint. While his platoon was reorganizing, he proved to be the inspiration of his squad in halting a counter-attack on the left flank during which his squad leader was killed. Taking charge of the squad, he continued his relentless tactics, using an enemy rifle and P-38 pistol to stop an organized enemy attack. During this entire action, he killed 12 and wounded two, personally captured four and assisted his platoon in taking 34 prisoners. By continuously ignoring enemy fire, and by his gallant courage and fighting spirit, he turned impending defeat into victory and helped his platoon complete its mission. Private Sakato’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.

George Sakato is still living today, and at age 93 is the second-oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, in between Robert D. Maxwell and Charles H. Coolidge.

Both Hajiro and Sakato were decorated at the time with the Distinguished Service Cross. Their decorations were among those reviewed for the possibility of racial discrimination affecting the awards during the 1990s. Both men received their Medals of Honor from President Bill Clinton at the White House on June 21, 2000.

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