By GWEN MURANAKA, MICHAEL HIRANO CULROSS and J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writers
Hershey Miyamura, the Nisei soldier whose remarkable bravery during the Korean War earned him the Medal of Honor, passed away on Nov. 29 in Phoenix, Ariz. He was 97.
Miyamura was characteristically humble about his actions near Taejon-Ni, Korea, but his exploits made him a revered figure, especially among Japanese Americans and also in his hometown of Gallup, N.M. His life as a veteran was characterized by his generosity in sharing his story and philosophy of living.
In 2014, Nisei Week honored Miyamura as its grand marshal. Speaking to The Rafu, he said, “I’m just hoping that our new generation will not forget what the veterans did for our country to help preserve our way of life. And hopefully they will carry on the traditions and legacy that the 100th, 442nd and MIS left.”
On April 24, 1951, as Chinese soldiers threatened to overrun their position, Miyamura, then a machine-gun squad leader with Company H, engaged in close hand-to-hand combat, killing approximately 10 of the enemy before returning to administer first aid to the wounded and directing their evacuation.
When another assault hit the line, he manned his machine gun until his ammunition was expended and ordered the squad to withdraw while he stayed behind, bayoneting his way through infiltrating enemy soldiers to a second gun emplacement and assisting in its operation.
He ordered his men to fall back while covering their movement and killed more than 50 of the enemy before his ammunition was depleted and he was severely wounded, but was still seen continuing to fight an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers before being captured.
Miyamura was a prisoner of war for 28 months and received the Medal of Honor from President Dwight Eisenhower after his release in 1953. He returned to Gallup after he was discharged from the Army, and worked as an automobile mechanic and service station owner as he and wife Terry raised their three kids. He was the second-to-last living Korean War recipient of the Medal of Honor.
In March, Miyamura traveled to Arlington, Texas to participate in the groundbreaking for the Medal of Honor Museum.
In a statement, the museum said, “The NMOHMF is grateful to have had Hershey and his family present at our groundbreaking ceremony in March of this year, where he stood to join 15 other recipients in uniting the soil from all 50 states and to break ground on what will soon be a physical embodiment of his humble yet remarkable life and legacy displayed through the Medal of Honor.
“With this great loss to the Medal of Honor community, there are now only 64 living recipients of our nation’s highest award for valor in combat. Now more than ever, their stories must be preserved and shared for all generations to come.”
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered all flags to be lowered to half-staff from Dec. 8 to 10 in Miyamura’s honor.
“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Hiroshi ‘Hershey’ Miyamura, a son of Gallup, N.M. and the second-to-last living Korean War Medal of Honor recipient,” said Grisham. “We are deeply grateful to him for his incredible service to our state and country – my prayers are with his loved ones.”
He was especially revered in his hometown, where the local high school, a bridge and a public park bear his name.
Gallup Mayor Louie Bonaguid ordered all flags to be lowered to half-mast, saying, “Hershey Miyamura was a lifelong resident of Gallup who gave selflessly to his community and country. It is a privilege to honor one of our own in this way and on behalf of the city I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Miyamura family.”
His enthusiasm for speaking with young people was unwavering; he welcomed impromptu chats in his home with neighborhood kids and even an L.A.-based foreign exchange student group that traveled through the area each spring.
“It’s mainly for the younger generation, to help them remember to try to preserve those memories and try to uphold the higher points of life,” Miyamura said in 2014. “I don’t claim to be a speaker but I just feel that it’s so important that our young ones know what our fellow veterans have done for us. We enjoy the freedoms we do today because of what they did, the sacrifices they made. We should not ever forget it.”
As news of Miyamura’s passing spread, the loss was felt keenly in the Japanese American community. Organizers said he will be remembered during Saturday’s Korean War veterans panel to be held in Irvine.
Miyamura and his wife would come to Southern California to attend veterans’ events, often carpooling with best friend Joe Annello, who would drive from Colorado to Gallup.
Miyamura was captured alongside Annello, who was gravely wounded. The Nisei carried Annello as they marched until the Chinese soldiers forced Miyamura at gunpoint to leave Annello on the side of the road to die. The story of the two friends was chronicled in “Forged in Fire,” written by the late judge and Vietnam veteran Vincent Okamoto.
Noting that Miyamura also served in World War II, 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans (Club 100) said in a statement, “Thank you to 100th daughter T.K. Highbridge for letting us know the sad news of the passing of Hiroshi ‘Hershey’ Miyamura, 100th veteran and Medal of Honor awardee for his service in the Korean Conflict. If you had the privilege of meeting Hershey, he was such a sweetheart, so kind and humble. Rest in power, Hershey. We love you.”
Ken Hayashi, president of the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance in Los Angeles, said, “He was a patriot who believed in our country and in doing his duty. He was also the most gracious person I ever met. He never said no to requests for photos, autographs or just to say hello. He is so well known and beloved in Gallup that he can never eat an uninterrupted meal in a restaurant.
“I first met him when he was one of the honored guests at the dedication of our JA Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1995. I was very fortunate to get to know him and his family in the years after that. He was a true American hero but a JA community treasure who always made an effort to accept invitations to JA community and veterans’ events. He will be dearly missed.”
Carl Miyagishima, adjutant, Sadao Munemori Post 321, said, “He was my hero when I was a kid and eventually a friend. Hershey was humble and straightforward. At our first meeting in Gallup in 2002, he showed me the site of his former gas station and his father’s diner on Third Street. He said that at meetings of Medal of Honor recipients, he felt closest to a Vietnam War Air Force pilot who was also captured as a prisoner of war.”
Go For Broke National Education Center President Mitchell Maki said, “A gentle soul, a hearty laugh, and a heart of courage … Today, we say goodbye to Hiroshi ‘Hershey’ Miyamura. He was a WWII veteran, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War, and a true American. Today, we say goodbye to a hero, an inspiration, and, most of all, a friend.
“Okage sama de … Because of you, I am. Thank you, Hershey, for all you have given to all of America.”
Miyamura is predeceased by his wife, Terry. He is survived by three children, Mike (Marianne), Pat (Jill) and Kelly Hildahl (Clay); four grandchildren, Megan, Maj. Marisa (Maj. Joe) Regan, USAF, Ian, Madison; great-grandchildren, Midori, Michael, Emi, Thomas, Lora; sisters, Michiko Yoshida, Suzi Tasherio, Shige Miyamura; sister-in-law, Kimi Miyamura; and numerous nieces and nephews and their families.