WWII Army Scout Earns Medal of Honor 51 Years After War

By Molly Manuszewski, DoD News

Hawaii recently marked its 58th anniversary of becoming a state. In honor of that, we wanted to commemorate a true hero born and raised in Makawao, Hawaii.

Army Pfc. Kaoru Moto. Army photo

Army Pfc. Kaoru Moto was a Nisei, or second-generation Japanese-American, and spent his early years in the sugar plantation town of Spreckelsville, Hawaii. His parents, both immigrants from Hiroshima, traveled across the Pacific to work for the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company. Ten months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Moto joined the Army.

On July 7, 1944, he would show his bravery on the battlefield near Castellina, Italy.

Moto was serving as a first scout with the all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion when he singlehandedly destroyed three enemy gun concentrations, all while guarding a prisoner. His acts of determination and persistence are exactly what would earn him the Medal of Honor.

While scouting the top of a ridge line, he came across a machine gun nest. He thought the other members of his squad were behind him. Suddenly, an enemy soldier emerged from a hole, and Moto pulled his trigger. Immediately following that, the enemy assistant gunner opened fire in his direction. So Moto crawled to the rear of the position, surprising the gunner, who quickly surrendered. His platoon leader called out after hearing the initial blast and told him not to shoot the enemy – to keep him alive for interrogation. He also asked Moto what he was doing on that ridge by himself. That was when Moto realized he had been alone.

However, doing things his own way seemed to be in Moto’s nature. He led his prisoner toward a nearby house to prevent the enemy from using the building as an observation post. There, he spotted an enemy machine gun team moving in. He fired on them, forcing them to withdraw. A sniper located in another house shot at Moto, leaving him severely wounded. He was relieved of his position and headed for safety to get help.

Crossing a road on his way, Moto spotted yet another enemy machine gun nest. Taking initiative, he opened fire and wounded two of the three soldiers occupying the nest, ordering the third to surrender. Receiving no answer, Moto remained persistent and fired toward the position until the soldier gave up.

For this effort, Moto was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, a medal second only to the nation’s highest, the Medal of Honor.

It wasn’t until 1996 that the Army and Navy would be called to review the Distinguished Service Cross citations of 104 Asian-Americans to determine whether any recipients had been unfairly denied the Medal of Honor. It was soon decided that 21 service members deserved the medal, including Moto.

Unfortunately, Moto died in 1992 and was not able to receive his award in person – his family accepted it for him from President Bill Clinton on June 1, 2000. Only seven of the 21 men who received the belated honor were still alive at the time of the ceremony.

READ MORE: Medal of Honor Monday Recipients

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