Three Heroic Japanese-Ancestry Americans From The July 1944 Italian Campaign

During July, remember these three American heroes of Japanese ancestry who received the Medal of Honor for their selflessness, valor and initiative during the 1944 Italian campaign.

All three were members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of Americans of Japanese ethnicity.

Segregated and viewed with suspicion and hostility by the Army leadership after Pearl Harbor, these troops were intent on proving their loyalty to the United States.

They fought ferociously against the Nazis and their unit became the most highly decorated in the Army’s history.

Map of the 1944 Italian campaign.

442nd RCT Insignia

“Go For Broke” – the 442nd’s moto.

Kaoru Moto

Kaoru Moto was born in Hawaii to a Japanese immigrant family and enlisted in the National Guard ten months before Pearl Harbor.

On July 7, 1944, he was scouting in front of his battalion when he discovered German machine gun positions. He attacked and killed the enemy on two positions and was then badly wounded when knocking out a third machine gun team.

His initiative and curiosity undoubtedly saved his buddies from an ambush. Moto received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 1994.

William Nakamura

Regimental color guard in Italy.

William Nakamura.

Like Moto, William Nakamura was a member of the 100th Battalion, the original segregated unit that was later rolled into the 442 Regimental Combat Team.

On July 4, 1944, Nakamura’s platoon was pinned down by a German pillbox. Nakamura crept forward on his own to beneath the pillbox and then knocked it out with four well timed grenades.

Later the same day, Nakamura knocked out another German machine position that was hampering his company’s withdrawal. For the second time in one day, his actions freed his pinned down buddies.

Sadly, Nakamura was killed just as the company finished moving back to safety. Today, he and seven other University of Washington graduates who later earned the Medal of Honor are honored on a monument at the university.

Kazuo Otani

Kazuo Otani was a California resident who volunteered for the 442 Regimental Combat Team in February 1942. In July 1944, he was a Staff Sergeant leading a platoon on the advance northwards in Italy.

Otani’s platoon was ambushed near a small Italian village, Pieve Saint Luce, and he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to rally his men and help them escape the ambush area. He then rushed into the open to save a wounded buddy but was killed in the process.

Kazuo Otani.

There three men exemplified the greatest amount of leadership and heroism, rising above the prejudice and small-mindedness they faced. They all “went the extra mile” in service of their fellow Americans.