Hiroshi Miyamura was awarded the Medal of Honor while he was held as a prisoner of war in the Korean War. He was told about the award on the day he was released. He died Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, at 97. Photos by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hull and Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman.
Hiroshi Miyamura had heard nothing about America in 28 months, locked away as a POW in Korea.
When Chinese soldiers delivered him to Freedom Village near Panmunjom for a prisoner exchange nearly a month after the end of the Korean War, he thought he might face a harsh return or even be brought up on charges. He had been captured on April 25, 1951, after his platoon was overrun by a massive Chinese force. Having served in World War II, Miyamura was one of the senior soldiers in his unit.
As he manned machine guns and fought hand-to-hand, he ordered wounded and other survivors from his company to withdraw. But most, he believed, were wiped out.
Medal of Honor recipient Army Staff Sgt. Hiroshi "Hershey" Miyamura at the New York City Veterans Day Parade, Nov. 11, 2019. Miyamura served as a grand marshal of the parade, which marked its centennial anniversary and honored the Marine Corps as its featured service. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Mario Ramirez.
He spent 28 months sure that he had failed his men, and that he would face blame and even charges for their deaths if he returned home. He worried he might face a court-martial.
As he arrived at Freedom Village as part of a POW exchange, according to an interview Miyamura gave in 2016, the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division met him.
"Are you Corporal Hiroshi H. Miyamura?" the general asked.
Nervously, Miyamura said he was.
"Congratulations," the general said. "You've been awarded the Medal of Honor."
Miyamura died at home in Phoenix, Arizona, Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 97. He was originally from Gallup, New Mexico. Even for a Medal of Honor recipient, Hiroshi "Hershey" Miyamura had a story that stretches belief.
First drafted in 1944, he was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the unit made of Japanese American soldiers. The 442nd was among the most decorated units in all of World War II, even as Japanese Americans were imprisoned in internment camps in the US. Soldiers in the 442nd earned 47 Distinguished Service Crosses, 354 Silver Stars, and over 3,600 Purple Hearts, according to military historian Doug Sterner. One member, Sadao Munemori, was awarded the Medal of Honor.
But Miyamura never saw combat then, arriving in Italy just days after the end of the war. He reenlisted when China invaded Korea in 1950 and soon found himself with the 3rd Infantry Division outside Seoul as a corporal.
A gate at Fort Stewart, Georgia, home of the 3rd Infantry Division, was renamed for Miyamura on Nov. 18, 2021. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Guerrero.
On the night of April 24, 1951, near Taejon-ni, Miyamura's H Company came under relentless waves of attack from a major Chinese assault. Over the course of the night, Miyamura killed 50 Chinese soldiers, at least 10 with a bayonet. He manned two different machine guns to cover the retreat of his men, aided the wounded and, according to his Medal of Honor citation, "when last seen he was fighting ferociously against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers."
His fellow soldiers thought he was dead. His wife received a letter that he was missing in action.
But though gravely wounded, he had been captured, a fact that Chinese authorities kept secret for over a year.
But the US had a secret, too.
Several members of H Company survived, reaching American lines. They were alive, they said, because of Miyamura's actions. Based on their testimony, Miyamura was awarded the Medal of Honor eight months after the battle. But the award was not made public because of his missing status.
Months later, China provided the US with a list of names of prisoners of war. Miyamura was on it.
For the rest of the war, his award remained secret until the general told him at Freedom Village.
"I remember all I could say was 'what?'" Miyamura told an interviewer with the American Legion in 2016. "For doing my duty? I was a machine gun squad leader. I didn't want to see my men killed and i just covered the withdrawal. i didn't think i was doing anything heroic. I just thought I was doing my job."
With Miyamura's death, there are just 64 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, and only one from Korea, former Army Ranger Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. In later years, Miyamura spoke often in public about the medal and was present at the groundbreaking in March for the National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, Texas.
"I've always been a person who never said too much," Miyamura said. "I was more or less a loner, I guess you'd say. But it made me aware that I was wearing our nation's highest honor and I had to act differently, especially among the younger people."
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the day of Mr. Miyamura's death.
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Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.
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