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America's first 'top secret' Medal of Honor went to a Nisei fighting in Korea

Hiroshi Miyamura was born to Japanese immigrants in Gallup, New Mexico, in 1925. This made him Nisei — Japanese for "second-generation."


At the outbreak of World War II, Miyamura witnessed many of his fellow Nisei being shipped off to internment camps. Gallup, however, was not located within the relocation zone, and even if it was, the townspeople were ready to stand up for their Japanese neighbors.

Safe from the internment camps, Miyamura enlisted in the US Army volunteering to serve with the famed Nisei 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Unfortunately for Miyamura, by the time he reached Europe to join the unit, Germany had surrendered.

He returned home, stayed in the Army Reserve, and married a fellow Nisei woman who had been interned in Arizona.

Hiroshi Miyamura. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Miyamura looked like he might pass his time in obscurity until North Korea charged across the 38th Parallel on June 25, 1950.

Recalled to active service, Miyamura joined the 3rd Infantry Division's 7th Infantry Regiment in Japan as it prepared to join the combat on the Korean peninsula.

Landing on Korea's east coast, Miyamura and the rest of the 3rd Infantry Division stormed into North Korea before being driven back by the Chinese intervention.

The 7th Infantry Regiment helped cover the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir and was the last unit to leave Hungnam on December 24, 1950.

A map of China's offensives in the Korean Peninsula. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Miyamura and his comrades were then placed on the defensive line around the 38th Parallel where they actively repelled numerous Chinese Offensives.

The war then became a bloody stalemate with each side battling across hilltops trying to gain an advantage.

One such hilltop, located at Taejon-ni along a defensive position known as the Kansas Line, was occupied by Miyamura and the rest of Company H, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.

After dark on April 24, 1951, Miyamura quietly awakened his men – a trip flare had gone off in the valley below their position. In the faint light of the flare, the Americans could make out large masses of Communist troops advancing on their position.

The Chinese 29th Division smashed into the entire 7th Infantry Regiment. The hardest hit was the 2nd Battalion holding the right flank. By 2:30 the next morning, they were surrounded by the Chinese.

Machine-gunners. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Miyamura, leading a machine-gun squad, ordered his men to open fire. As the American guns roared to life, the Chinese fell in droves. But still they kept coming.

After two hours of relentless fighting, Miyamura's machine-guns were down to less than 200 rounds of ammunition. He gave the order to fix bayonets and prepared to repulse the next wave of Chinese attackers.

When that attack came, Miyamura jumped from his position and savagely attacked the enemy. He blasted off eight rounds from his M-1 Garand before dispatching more Chinese with his bayonet.

He then returned to his position to give first aid to the wounded. When he realized they could no longer hold, he ordered his squad to retreat while he gave covering fire.

US Army troops fighting in the streets of Seoul, Korea. September 20, 1950. The M1 in the foreground has the bayonet mounted. Photo under Public Domain.

He shot off the last of the machine-gun ammunition and rendered the gun inoperable before pouring another eight rounds into the advancing Communist.

According to Miyamura's Medal of Honor citation, he then "bayoneted his way through infiltrated enemy soldiers" until he reached a second position and once again took up the defense. During his withdrawal, Miyamura was wounded by a grenade thrown by a dying Chinese soldier.

The attacks grew fiercer against the second position. Elsewhere along the line, the rest of the battalion had been ordered to begin a withdrawal south to a more tenable position. Miyamura, realizing their position was in danger of being overrun, ordered the remaining men to fall back as well while he covered their retreat.

Miyamura was last seen by friendly forces fighting ferociously against overwhelming odds. It is estimated he killed a further 50 Chinese before he ran out of ammunition and his position was overrun.

Exhausted and depleted from blood loss, Miyamura and numerous other men from the 7th Infantry Regiment were captured by the Communists.

Men of the 1st Marine Division capture Chinese Communists during fighting on the central Korean front, Hoengsong. Photo under Public Domain.

Despite his heroic efforts, Miyamura's ordeal was far from over.

After being captured, the men were marched North for internment camps. Miyamura set out carrying his friend and fellow squad leader, Joe Annello, who had been more severely wounded. Others who fell out of the march were shot or bayoneted. At gun point, the Chinese forced Miyamura to drop his friend. Miyamura initially refused but Annello convinced him. They said goodbye and Miyamura marched on.

He would spend over two years as a prisoner of war at Camp 1 in Changson.

While he was there, the decision was made to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on the night of April 24 and 25. However, due to his staunch defense and the large numbers of enemy he killed, it was decided to keep his award classified he could be repatriated for fear of retaliation by his captors.

Finally, on August 20, 1953 Miyamura was released from captivity as part of Operation Big Switch. When he arrived at Allied lines, he was taken aside and informed that he had been promoted to Sergeant and also that he had received the Medal of Honor.

United Nations' prisoner-of-war camp at Pusan. Photo from Public Domain.

Miyamura returned to Gallup after the war and settled down.

Then, in 1954, over a year after the war ended, a man walked into Miyamura's work – it was his old friend Joe Annello. Both had been sure that the other had died in captivity until Annello read Miyamura's story and traveled all the way to New Mexico to see if it was true.

Miyamura is still in Gallup, in the same house he bought all the way back in 1954.

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