One of the Last Two Korean War Medal of Honor Recipients Died at 97

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura (Ret.), Medal of Honor recipient, attended the U.S. Air Force promotion ceremony of his granddaughter at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado on Oct. 17, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman)

Hiroshi Miyamura, one of the last two living Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean War, died on Nov. 29, 2022, at age 97.

With his death, there are only 64 living recipients of the United States' highest award for valor in combat.

Miyamura first joined the Army to fight in a unit made up entirely of Japanese-Americans sent to Europe during World War II. He went through the required training, but by the time he was ready to see real combat, the war ended. He stayed in the Army Reserve after the war.

It wouldn't be long before the Army called him up again. This time, he would be sent to Korea and find himself fighting off 10 enemy soldiers with just his bayonet. He was eventually captured by the communists, and the Medal of Honor he received for that action would be a closely guarded secret until he came home.

The future Cpl. Miyamura was born in New Mexico, where his Japanese immigrant family ran an all-night diner. He grew up with the nickname "Hershey," because none of the local residents could pronounce his actual name. He was 16 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but eager to prove his mettle as an American.

Miyamura joined the Army and was sent to Europe to train with the famed 442d Regimental Combat Team, composed of only Americans of Japanese descent. When he got to Europe, the Axis Powers there had already surrendered. He joined the Army Reserve and went home to New Mexico, where he married.

In June 1950, North Korea suddenly invaded South Korea and President Harry S. Truman committed the United States to the defense of the South. Miyamura was called up and first sent to the Japanese island of Honshu, where his father was raised. On Nov. 5, 1950, Miyamura and the 7th Infantry Regiment landed at Wonsan, on the East Coast of the peninsula.

They advanced so close to the Yalu River, China's border with North Korea, Miyamura could see the enemy massed on the Chinese side of the river.

The Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) had intervened in the war for North Korea and blunted the United Nations advance. Miyamura and the rest of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Regiment moved toward the North Korean port city of Hungnam to cover the withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division and Task Force Faith.

The Marines and Task Force Faith had a bloody, brutal meeting at the Chosin Reservoir. The UN forces, overwhelmed by China's numbers, were preparing to evacuate from Hungnam. Miyamura and the 7th Infantry were among the last friendly forces to leave Hungnam. They were redeployed just north of Seoul in time to meet the PVA's 1951 Spring Offensive.

Near the 38th Parallel, an estimated 700,000 Chinese and North Korean troops hit the 418,000 UN defenders across the peninsula. The initial attack surprised the largely unprepared South Koreans, who collapsed and retreated, clogging the roads and hampering the UN's ability to reinforce its line elsewhere. In less than a day, the communists had pushed the UN to its first fallback position, the Kansas Line.

Miyamura was in a defensive position on a hill just north of the Kansas Line, exchanging fire with the advancing Chinese. On the night of April 24, 1951, he watched the area in front of him. There was no moonlight coming through the clouds, and the Chinese were making a racket with clanging pans and whistles..

He awoke the friendly forces on the hill, just before the noises stopped. The Americans fired a flare just in time to see the throngs of enemy soldiers climbing to their positions.

The Chinese were almost right on top of them. Miyamura and the Americans began fighting a massive human wave attack. For two hours, the soldiers gunned down charging Chinese troops. When they had just 200 rounds left, he ordered his men to fix their bayonets. As the next wave closed in, he was the first to jump out, emptying his rifle into them before attacking with his bayonet.

Miyamura killed 10 enemy soldiers, then jumped back on his machine gun until the last of its ammo was expended. He ordered his squad to withdraw and covered their escape with his rifle and grenades. He then bayoneted his way for another machine gun position, until that one also ran out of ammunition and was overrun.

As he moved to fall back once more, he came across an enemy soldier, who dropped a grenade when Miyamura bayoneted him, too. The fragmentation from the grenade poured into his leg, but he kept trying to move and cover his unit's escape. According to his Medal of Honor citation, "When last seen he was fighting ferociously against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers."

He passed out from blood loss and exhaustion. He awoke to find himself a prisoner of the Chinese army. He was forcibly marched from the battlefield near the North-South Korea border to a prison camp near the Chinese border, some 300 miles. He would be held there for two years while the United States awarded him the Medal of Honor.

(U.S. Army)

Miyamura's Medal of Honor was the first one ever awarded that was classified as top secret. American officials feared the communists would retaliate against him if they knew what he did on the battlefield that day. He wasn't released from captivity until Aug. 20, 1953, as part of Operation Big Switch. That's when he learned about his Medal of Honor.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented him with the medal at the White House on Oct. 27, 1953. Miyamura left the Army and returned home to New Mexico.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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