William Kenzo Nakamura was born in Seattle, Washington on January 21, 1922. While he and his family were interned in Minidoka, Idaho, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he joined the US Army in July 1943, and volunteered to be part of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This army unit was mostly made up of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland.
Nakamura, serving as a private first class in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, distinguished himself in action on July 4, 1944, near Castellina, Italy. During a fierce firefight, his platoon was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire from a concealed position. Nakamura crawled about 20 yards toward the hostile nest with enemy machine gun fire barely missing him. When he was about 15 yards from the enemy's position, he quickly raised to a kneeling position and blasted the nest with a hail of hand grenades.
When his company was ordered to withdraw from the crest of a hill so that a mortar barrage could be placed on the ridge, Nakamura remained in position to cover his comrades' withdrawal. When deadly machine gun fire pinned down the company, Nakamura crawled within range of the enemy position and opened fire, pinning down the machine gunner. The unit completed its withdrawal, but Nakamura was killed during his heroic stand.
For his actions in July 1944, he was posthumously awarded the Army's second-highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. A 1990's review of service records for Asian Americans who received the Distinguished Service Cross during World War II led to Nakamura's award being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor citation
Private First Class William K. Nakamura distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 4 July 1944, near Castellina, Italy. During a fierce firefight, Private First Class Nakamura’s platoon became pinned down by enemy machine gun fire from a concealed position. On his own initiative, Private First Class Nakamura crawled 20 yards toward the hostile nest with fire from the enemy machine gun barely missing him. Reaching a point 15 yards from the position, he quickly raised himself to a kneeling position and threw four hand grenades, killing or wounding at least three of the enemy soldiers. The enemy weapon silenced, Private First Class Nakamura crawled back to his platoon, which was able to continue its advance as a result of his courageous action. Later, his company was ordered to withdraw from the crest of a hill so that a mortar barrage could be placed on the ridge. On his own initiative, Private First Class Nakamura remained in position to cover his comrades’ withdrawal. While moving toward the safety of a wooded draw, his platoon became pinned down by deadly machine gun fire. Crawling to a point from which he could fire on the enemy position, Private First Class Nakamura quickly and accurately fired his weapon to pin down the enemy machine gunners. His platoon was then able to withdraw to safety without further casualties. Private First Class Nakamura was killed during this heroic stand. Private First Class Nakamura’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
C o p y r i g h t (C) 2 0 1 7 – H e a t h R o b i s o n / I d a h o H e r o e s . o r g