Valor Friday

| September 10, 2021 | 15 Comments

S/Sgt Hiroshi “Hershey” Myamura

Hiroshi Myamura was born in Gallup, New Mexico in 1925 to Japanese immigrant parents. This made him a “Nisei” or second-generation American of Japanese descent. The fourth of nine children, his parents owned and operated a 24-hour diner in the city. Gallup then as now was a largely Native American city. Known as “The Heart of Indian Country” as it lays just on the border of the Navajo Indian Reservation and is home to members of that tribe and many others. It’s famously noted as one of the cities where you might “Get your kicks on Route 66.”

“Hershey”, as Myamura became known by his American contemporaries who had trouble with his given name, lived a rather normal childhood until the spectre of war with the Empire of Japan loomed in late-1941. He had lost his mother when he was only 11. He knew little about Japan since the family spoke English at home and his father never spoke of Japan. The Myamuras only saw themselves as Americans.

With the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the US was now at war with Hershey’s ancestral home. Within months, distrust of Americans of Japanese descent led President Franklin Roosevelt to order the internment of all first-generation Japanese Americans and their Nisei children. The extent of the order was limited to the West Coast, with states and jurisdictions outside the coastal zone deciding for themselves whether they too would intern Japanese people.

The State of New Mexico elected to go along with Roosevelt’s order, with the exception of a single town. The City of Gallup, with about 800 Japanese residents among the population of 7,000, successfully resisted the calls to imprison their citizens. This left those Japanese Americans living in Gallup free for the duration of the war.

As with most men of his generation, Myamura enlisted during the Second World War. He joined up in January 1945 after the almost all-Nisei 442nd Infantry Regiment fighting in Europe became the most decorated unit in American history.

Many of the Nisei in the 442nd Infantry fought while their families were interned. “The Purple Heart Battalion” as they became known saw two years of combat and needed to have their ranks replenished two and a half times. During the war they earned eight Presidential Unit Citations (five of those in just a single month!) and the division’s ~14,000 men earned 18,143 individual awards including 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars (plus 28 oak leaf clusters for second awards), 15 Soldier’s Medals, 4,000 Bronze Star Medals (plus 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters for a second award, one Bronze Star was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in June 2000, and one Bronze Star was upgraded to a Silver Star in September 2009), and more than 4,000 Purple Hearts.

Earning such a reputation, it’s not a surprise that Myamura volunteered to serve with the 442nd Infantry. He was assigned there, sent to Europe, and trained as a machine gunner, but the war ended before he saw any action. He was mustered out of the service shortly after Victory in Japan Day.

After the war Myamura returned to New Mexico he married and enlisted with the US Army Reserve. It was in this capacity that he would be once again called to active duty when the US went to war, this time with North Korea after they invaded the South in June 1950.

Myamura, a corporal by this point, was assigned to another legendary American Army unit. He was with the 7th Infantry Regiment, the “Cottonbalers”, then part of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd Infantry Division itself had earned great acclaim for a resolute defense of The Marne during the First World War, from which they were nicknamed “The Rock of The Marne” by the French. During World War II, the division saw

The Cottonbalers earned their sobriquet during the War of 1812. The 7th Infantry have been in continuous service since then, participating in every American conflict. They have more battle campaigns (78) to their credit than any other Army infantry unit. They are called Cottonbalers since during the War of 1812, at the Battle of New Orleans, while under the command of then-Major General Andrew Jackson, the regiment held off a British attack by utilizing a breastwork of cotton bales.

The 7th Infantry sailed to Japan from San Francisco less than two months after the start of the Korean War. In Japan they were replenished (having been below strength due to post-war force reductions). They landed at Wonson in North Korea in late November 1950, five months into the war.

Landing at Wonson, the 7th Infantry was part of Task Force Dog, which was sent to cover the retreat of the beleaguered Marines and soldiers from the Chosin Reservoir. The successful United Nations push into North Korea had caused the communist Chinese to enter the war, less than a week after Myamura and his men arrived on the peninsula.

On Christmas Eve 1950, Myamura and his regiment were the last to leave Pink Beach at Hungnam as the UN forces made a tactical retreat after the Chinese intervention began. They were then posted north of Seoul as part of the Eighth Army’s defensive line. The regiment supporting other 3rd Infantry Division units actively engaged in combat, in April 1951 the Cottonbalers were part of the defense against Chinese forces pushing south from the 38th Parallel.

In what came to be known as the 1951 PVA Spring Offensive, that the Chinese made their first big push against the UN forces. The offensive would see 7,000 Chinese and North Korean troops face off against roughly 4,400 UN troops (mostly American). The offensive started 22 April 1951 and it was on the night of 24 April into 25 April that Myamura would find himself face-to-face with dozens of the enemy.

Myamura’s Company H was occupying a defensive position that night. Visibility was nil. Clouds obscured the stars. Myamura sensed something was coming and woke up his team. As they sat in silence gazing into the abyss, a trip flare at the base of the hill went up. The soldiers could see scores of silhouettes coming up the hill.

It was then that the Chinese attacked en masse. As a machine gun squad leader, Corporal Myamura saw his position was going to be overrun. Waves of fanatical Chinese came so incessantly that he worried they were going to run out of bullets.

Down to 200 machine gun rounds and facing the imminent death of him and all his men, he ordered them to fix bayonets. As the enemy closed to within 10 yards, Myamura jumped from his defensive position without hesitation, his bayonet attached, stormed into the enemy.

Myamura engaged them with eight rounds of his rifle. His magazine emptied, in hand-to-hand combat. Fighting off and killing approximately 10 men by hand he returned to his machine gun nest. He rendered aid to his wounded men and ordered them all to retreat.

To cover his men’s retreat, Myamura manned the crew-served weapon alone. As he was directing the evacuation, Wave after wave of enemy soldiers continued to rush his position, but the young corporal held fast. Raking withering fire across the communists with everything he had. He only left the machine gun when he had expended all the ammunition into his foe.

As the last of his team retreated, Myamura remained behind to render the gun inoperable and to provide them with whatever cover he could provide. Emptying his rifle again, he started lobbing grenades. When they were gone, he once again leapt out and slashed through the enemy with his bayonet.

Within the enemy lines now, Myamura fought hand-to-hand through them to get to another of his company’s machine gun emplacements. When the intensity of the enemy charges there increased once again, the whole company was ordered to retreat. Corporal Myamura again ordered the men under his command at this second machine gun position to retreat while he covered them.

It’s estimated that Myamura killed 50 of the enemy before his second gun position was silenced for lack of ammunition. When last anyone saw him, Myamura was wounded, but was still fighting ferociously in hand-to-hand combat against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers.

Myamura survived and was taken prisoner. The next morning he was reunited in the makeshift Korean prisoner camp with his friend and fellow soldier of the 7th Infantry, Sergeant Joe Annello. Hershey provided his friend with what medical aid he could, but Annello had been hit with a grenade that struck near his spine, leaving a gaping hole.

Their captors lined the prisoners up to march them out. Annello was unable to support his own weight. Prisoners who fell behind were summarily executed. Knowing this, Myamura, despite being wounded himself, bodily carried all of Annello’s weight so that he could continue on with the other prisoners.

Myamura and Annello started to fall behind after miles of marching. Their captors threatened to shoot both of them if Myamura didn’t leave the injured Annello. Myamura had been carrying his friend for ten miles. He refused. Once again Myamura was willing to sacrifice himself for his fellow soldiers.

Annello convinced Myamura to leave him behind. Annello describes what happened next;

[Hershey] saying to me, “I’m sorry Joe”! I told him “It’s OK Hersh, I sincerely appreciated all that you have done for me.” We said our goodbyes since we knew what was going to happen based on past history. I made peace with my God!

Miraculously, Annello survived. The guards that stayed behind to execute him left him in a ditch while they partook of a smoke break. As the men were telling jokes to each other they eventually must have realized they’d taken too long. All of them just left, leaving Annello behind, alive but critically wounded. Annello would lie in the ditch for two days, unable to move, before he was taken prisoner by a second column of Chinese troops. Despite deplorable conditions at the next prison camp, he hung on until liberated some time later.

Myamura would be held in captivity for 28 months, his weight dwindling down to less than 100 pounds (a skeletal weight for a man 5’10” tall). During that time, word of his heroics had spread. Award recommendations were made and decided. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his incredible bravery under fire.

Army MOH

As a prisoner of the enemy, Myamura’s award was classified Top Secret, the first time this had occurred. As Brigadier General Ralph Osborne explained to Miyamura and a group of reporters upon notifying them of his medal, “If the Reds knew what he had done to a good number of their soldiers just before he was taken prisoner, they might have taken revenge on this young man. He might not have come back.”

While in captivity he’d been promoted to sergeant and then to staff sergeant. Upon his liberation in 1953 he was returned to the United States where he received the Medal of Honor from President Dwight Eisenhower.

Hershey said of the meeting, “I do remember talking to the president as we were about to receive our medals. He asked me how I was feeling and I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, I’m a bit nervous.’ He told me, ‘Well, son, I’m a bit nervous, too.'”

Myamura once again was mustered out of federal service. He again returned home to Gallup. He and his wife had three children, and owned a service station. He spent the rest of his working years running the gas station and wrenching on cars.

About a year after Myamura returned home from the war, a man walked into his service station. Myamura is said to have gone sheet white. He was seeing a ghost. It was Joe Annello who had darkened his door. Annello drove to Gallup the minute he found out Myamura had survived. Both men had thought the other died.

Myamura now gives speeches and lectures. He tells his audience of his ordeals, “There were times I felt like giving up. The main thing that kept me going was faith in God and country.”

Myamura still resides in Gallup it seems. His wife of more than 65 years, Tsuruko “Terry” (from nearby Winslow, AZ, also featured in the famous Rt. 66 song) passed away in 2014.

In 2018, Myamura’s long-time friend and comrade retired Command Sergeant Major Joseph Annello passed away. He’d remained in the Army, later serving in Vietnam. Annello was awarded a Silver Star for manning his machine gun post and covering the retreat of his own men on 24 April 1951, the same night that Myamura fought his way through more than four dozen communist troops.

Category: Army, Historical, Korea, Medal of Honor, Valor, We Remember

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  1. Tallywhagger says:

    What an incredible story and man of valor!

    Compare and contrast, Hiroshi Myamura with the today’s little darlings and their need for “trigger warnings”.

    Little David Hogg would melt in the shadow of such men.

  2. Fyrfighter says:

    That such men have lived…

  3. STSC(SW/SS) says:

    Nerves of steel
    Balls of brass
    This great soldier is at the top of his class.

    I salute you Staff SGT Myamura.

  4. 5JC says:

    Amazing story.

    I believe it should be descent vs dissent.

  5. Sparks says:

    Thank you Mason for the story of another American hero I did not know. Thank God for men such as these.

  6. Roh-Dog says:

    Rumor has it when Command Sergeant Major Joseph Annello or Staff Sergeant Hiroshi Myamura went anywhere, their balls arrived 2 hours beforehand.

    Thank you Gentlemen.

  7. Poetrooper says:

    Thanks for a good read, Mason. Wish I’d heard this story forty years ago when I made occasional calls on the Indian Health Service Hospital in Gallup. I would have made a point of looking him up and shaking his hand.

    I didn’t go there often because the only Indians who weren’t overtly hostile to us white devils were the ones trying to hustle fake silver and turquoise jewelry.

    There’s a famous and beautiful old hotel/motel there where John Wayne and all the Hollywood stars stayed while making westerns:

    https://elranchohotelgallup.com/

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