Army Pvt. George “Joe” Sakato
Submitted by Colorado National Guard Public Affairs
A public memorial service was held for a local Medal of Honor recipient on Jan. 16 in Aurora. Army Pvt. George “Joe” Sakato was the last known Medal of Honor recipient from World War II living in Colorado.
He died Dec. 2, 2015, in Denver. He was 94.
Sakato was buried next to his wife Bessie, with full military honors.
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, though originally recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions in France, Sakato was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. However, a Pentagon review of World War II military awards in the 1990s led to the upgrade.
He was presented his Medal of Honor by President William J. Clinton at a White House ceremony on June 21, 2000.
“Joe was a great American who refused to allow prejudice to prevent him from defending our country – whatever it cost him,” said Adj. Gen. of Colorado Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards.
Sakato joined the Army in 1944 and volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was made up mostly of Japanese-Americans.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, thousands of Japanese people already in the U.S., citizens and foreigners alike, were forced to move to internment camps out of fear of their allegiance. However, history has determined they weren’t security risks.
“In order to prove our loyalty, I volunteered into the service,” Sakato told PBS in 2003.
“We were fighting prejudice in the States … and fighting the Germans in Europe,” he told 9NEWS in 2013.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, Sakato distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on Oct. 29, 1944, on Hill 617 in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France.
After his platoon had virtually destroyed two enemy defense lines, during which he personally killed five enemy soldiers and captured four, his unit was pinned down by heavy enemy fire. Disregarding the danger, Sakato made a one-man rush that encouraged his platoon to charge and destroy the enemy strongpoint.
While his platoon was reorganizing, he proved to be the inspiration of his squad in halting a counter-attack on the left flank, during which his squad leader was killed. Taking charge of the squad, he continued his relentless tactics, using an enemy rifle and P-38 pistol to stop an organized enemy attack.
During this entire action, he killed 12 and wounded two, personally captured four and assisted his platoon in taking 34 prisoners.
By continuously ignoring enemy fire, and by his gallant courage and fighting spirit, he turned impending defeat into victory and helped his platoon complete its mission.
“When we came back … President Truman said, ‘You’ve fought the Germans and you’ve fought prejudice, and you won,’” Sakato told 9NEWS in 2013. “And that was good.”
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team remains one of the most decorated units for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare.
Sakato is survived by his daughter Leslie and two brothers.
In addition to Sakato, at least four other Medal of Honor recipients are interred at Fairmount Cemetery.
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