Lt. Daniel Inouye Destroys 3 German Machine Gun Nests, is Badly Wounded, and Receives Medal of Honor (Eventually)

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Lt. Daniel Inouye Destroys 3 German Machine Gun Nests, is Badly Wounded, and Receives Medal of Honor (Eventually)

President Bill Clinton presenting Medal of Honor to
Sen. Inouye, June 21, 2000
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: April 22, 1945

Today, our ramble through military history focuses on a proud American who fought not only the Germans during the Second World War, but widespread prejudice to become a U.S. senator representing his home state in Washington DC. His Distinguished Service Cross for bravery awarded in 1945 was upgraded in 2000 to a Medal of Honor.


Inouye was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1924. Both of his parents had emigrated from Japan in search of work. With the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Inouye worked as a medical volunteer. After graduating from high school, he began his college studies at the University of Hawaii taking courses in premed.

The U.S. Army prohibited the enlistment of Japanese-Americans until 1943. Shortly afterwards, Inouye left college and enlisted in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Within a year he was promoted to sergeant and became a platoon leader.

The 442nd RCT served in Italy in 1944 during the Rome-Arno Campaign before his regiment was transferred to the Vosges Mountains region of France, where he spent two weeks in the battle to relieve the "Lost Battalion," a battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment that was surrounded by German forces. He received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant for his actions there, becoming the youngest officer in his regiment.

[During the rescue of the "Lost Battalion," several 442nd units staged an impromptu "Banzai" charge against the Germans. It cost many casualties, but it broke the encirclement of the 141st Regiment.]

After several months of fighting in France, the 442nd RCT was shipped back to Italy in March of 1945. As the 2nd World War was winding down, the German forces defending the Gothic Line the last and most unyielding line of German defensive works in Italy. The 442nd was assigned to help crack this defensive line. [The 442nd's motto was "Go for broke!"

April 21, 1945: "Nobody Called Off the War!"

On April 21, 1945, Inouye led an assault on a heavily defended ridge near San Terenzo in Liguria, Italy, called the Colle Musatello. The ridge served as a strongpoint of the Gothic Line. As he led his platoon in a flanking maneuver, three German machine guns opened fire from covered positions 40 yards away, pinning his men to the ground. Inouye stood up to attack and was shot in the stomach. Ignoring his wound, he proceeded to attack and destroy the first machine gun nest with hand grenades and his Thompson submachine gun. When informed of the severity of his wound, he refused treatment and rallied his men for an attack on the second machine gun position, which he successfully destroyed before collapsing from blood loss.

Inouye as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army; Date c. 1946
Inouye as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army
Date c. 1946

As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, Inouye crawled toward the final bunker, coming within 10 yards. As he raised himself up and cocked his arm to throw his last grenade, a German soldier inside the bunker fired a rifle grenade, which struck his right elbow, nearly severing most of his arm and leaving his primed grenade reflexively "clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore."

Inouye's horrified soldiers moved to his aid, but he shouted for them to keep back out of fear his severed right fist would involuntarily relax and drop the grenade. While the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left. As the enemy soldier aimed his rifle at him, Inouye tossed the grenade into the bunker and destroyed it. He stumbled to his feet and continued forward, silencing the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge. He awoke to see the worried men of his platoon hovering over him. His only comment before being carried away was to order them back to their positions, saying "Nobody called off the war!"

Medal of Honor Citation: 2nd Lt. Daniel Ken Inouye, 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper's bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye'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.


The remainder of Inouye's right arm was amputated at an Army field hospital without anesthesia, because he had already received morphine injections at an aid station. During his recovery period at the Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, MI, the recuperating Inouye met two men who would become U.S. senators: Bob Dole of Kansas and Phillip Hart of Michigan; each of them were recovering from battle wounds. [Years later, the facility would be renamed the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in honor of the three patients.]

Footnote #1: After returning to Hawaii, Inouye returned to college. He gave up his dream of being a surgeon, enrolling instead in political science curriculum. He eventually was elected as Hawaii's first member of the House of Representatives shortly after Hawaii achieved statehood. In 1962, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, He was re-elected 8 times, the last time in 2010.

Footnote #2: Inouye's original award of a Distinguished Service Cross was one of 19 combat awards to Nisei soldiers of the 2nd World War that were upgraded in 2000. Many military experts believed these men had been denied proper recognition of their bravery due to their race. He received the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony, and received the award from President Clinton.

Footnote #3 Inouye died December 17, 2012. His body laid in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, prior to his burial National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (informally known as the Punchbowl Cemetery) in Hawaii.

USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), a similar Flight IIA destroyer of the Same design as the future USS Daniel Inouye
USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), a similar Flight IIA destroyer of the
Same design as the future USS Daniel Inouye

Footnote #4: On May 23, 2013, the U.S. Navy announced that the next Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (DDG) would be named the USS Daniel Inouye (DDG-118) to honor Inouye.

Footnote #5: In December 2013 the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (then under construction) at Haleakala Observatory on Maui was renamed the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in his memory.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.