By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor
It was a long time coming. Over 60 years after Private First Class Noboru Kagawa climbed and fought in the steep mountain ranges of the Po Valley in Italy, Kagawa, now 88 years old, received the Bronze Star for heroism during the military campaign. The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest award bestowed by the U.S. military for valor and heroism in combat.
For his actions during World War II, Kagawa received the Distinguished Unit Badge, European African Middle Eastern Theater, World War II Victory Ribbon, Army of Occupation, and on Saturday night, a Bronze Star. The ceremony took place during a gathering of family and friends at Happa Restaurant in Gardena.
Kagawa was drafted into the U.S. Army from Idaho at the age of 20 and served as a light machine gun operator. During the Po Valley campaign in the spring of 1945, the 442nd, under Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army, 92nd Infantry Division, fought heavily fortified German defenses built atop the rugged Apennine Mountains.
“I remember there was a lot of walking,” said Kagawa. “There was one case where I climbed the mountain and I just couldn’t go anymore. So I had these Italian kids, they took all my equipment up the mountain and that really helped me out.”
Kagawa served until he was honorably discharged in July 1946. During all his time as a soldier, Kagawa was never wounded, but
he vividly remembered a close call.
“The closest I got to being wounded was in the final push going up the hill. We all had to hit the ground and for some reason, there’s a soldier next to me. He says, ‘I’m hit,’” Kagawa recalled. “I thought, how can he get hit, when I was in front of him? The bullet must have gone between my legs.”
Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, the adjutant general of the California Military Department, performed the pinning ceremony. Before the ceremony, the two soldiers shared some moments together and found that had they both trained at Camp Shelby, Miss.
“It’s a big deal to get one of these. We don’t just give them out to anyone,” said Baldwin, holding the star dangling from a bright red and blue ribbon. “Particularly to give one to a private first class— normally we give them out to a little higher-ranking people. That shows that the sacrifices and achievements he had while fighting in Europe were truly remarkable.”
Rodney Kamiya of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1961 served as emcee of the ceremony, which was also attended by Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka.
After the war, Kagawa returned to California, where he became a gardener and a lifetime member of VFW Post 1961 in Gardena. He still lives in Gardena with his wife, Shiz. The couple, who have been married for 67 years, have three children and six grandchildren.
Son Brent, joined by his siblings Bruce and Penny Morris Kagawa, paid tribute to their father at the conclusion of the ceremony.
“We celebrate my dad’s service as a soldier, a father, husband and American,” said Brent, leading the gathering in a standing ovation.