On Apr. 24, 1951, Cpl. Hiroshi Miyamura — known as “Hershey” to his men — and his squad of a dozen machine gunners and five riflemen were stationed on a Korean hill to delay the Chinese attack everyone knew was coming. The hillside was pocked with trenches and craters and littered with razor wire. At 4 in the morning, the quiet was broken by the sound of bugles and whistles as waves of Chinese regulars swarmed across the Imjin River. One of those waves breaking against Miyamura’s position.
Suddenly, he was in charge of a suicide mission.
Born and raised in Gallup, New Mexico, the son of Japanese immigrants, Miyamura served in World War II with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese-American unit that became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of America, but did not see action. He joined up again when the Korean Conflict broke out in 1950 and was trained in heavy weapons and sent to Korea.
For hours that morning, the Chinese waves beat against Miyamura’s position. Their overwhelming numbers came straight at Miyamura as his machine guns slowly eliminated the enemy squad, one man at a time. As their ammunition dwindled, Miyamura, who was directing fire, firing his carbine, and hurling grenades at the attackers, ordered his squad to fix bayonets.
At one point, the Chinese began attempting to flank the remnants of the small unit, so Miyamura attacked — by himself.
“Chinese soldiers had been cautiously moving up the slope when Miyamura suddenly appeared in their midst,” Brig. Gen. Ralph Osborne, would later announce. “Jabbing and slashing, he scattered one group and wheeled around, breaking up another group the same way.”
He then returned to his squad and began tending to the wounded, but he soon realized his position was hopeless. He ordered a withdrawal.
As the men readied to pull out, another wave of Chinese struck and Miyamura moved to an untended machine gun and fired it until he was out of ammunition. He disabled the machine gun to keep out of enemy hands and was about to join the withdrawal when the Chinese again hit his position. He bayoneted his way to a second, untended machine gun and used it to cover his men’s withdrawal until he was forced to take shelter in a bunker and kept fighting. The area in front of the bunker was later discovered to be littered with the bodies of at least 50 of the enemy combatants.
When the fighting hit a lull, Hershey found himself alone.
Now wounded in the leg by grenade shrapnel, he began to work his way back from the front at times meeting — and besting — Chinese troops in hand-to-hand combat until, exhausted and weakened, he fell into a roadside ditch and was captured.
For the next 28 months, he struggled to survive in a North Korean POW camp, believing his entire squad had been killed or wounded. He also naively feared he would face a court-marshal for having lost so many of his men. (In fact, several of the squad had survived). So, when he was finally released at the end of the fighting he weighed less than 100 pounds and faced freedom with some trepidation.
Instead, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The award had been kept secret for fear of enemy retaliation, so few ever knew of Hershey’s actions on that lonely Korean hill. So it was with some surprise that Miyamura was informed by Gen. Osborne of his MOH.
“What?” he is reported to have said. ‘I’ve been awarded what medal?’
On Oct. 27, 1953, then-Sergeant Miyamura — he had been promoted while in captivity — received his award from President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House and returned to Gallup where the city’s schools were let out, businesses had been closed, and some 5,000 people greeted him as he got off the train.
Gallup had declared “Hiroshi Miyamura Day.”