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William Kenzo Nakamura receives Medal of Honor for World War II heroism in a ceremony on June 21, 2000.
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On June 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton presents 22 World War II heroes, including Seattleite William Kenzo Nakamura (d. 1944), the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor. Nakamura died on an Italian battlefield on July 4, 1944, when he alone approached intense German machinegun fire, drawing it away from the rest of his platoon. The 22 war heroes had been denied Medals of Honor at the time on account of their Asian ancestry.
A Garfield High Graduate
Nakamura grew up in the International District, graduated from Garfield High School, attended the University of Washington, and during the summers worked in a salmon cannery at Union Bay, Alaska. His studies were interrupted when he and his family were forced to move to the Minidoka Relocation Center (Internment camp) in 1942. He enlisted in the army and became a member of what would become one of the most highly decorated regiments in U.S. history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 34th "Red Bull" Division, U.S. 5th Army. He was the first Army volunteer from Minidoka Relocation Center to be killed in action.
On July 4, 1944, Nakamura's platoon was caught in intense machine gun fire from a German machine gun unit. Nakamura crawled by himself toward the fire, throwing hand grenades. His action halted the fire long enough for his platoon to escape. Nakamura himself escaped injury, only to die later the same day, when again he approached machine-gun fire in order to draw it away from his comrades.
After the war, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the country's second highest military award. His commander had recommended him for a Medal of Honor.
In President Clinton's presentation of the Congressional Medals of Honor to upgrade 22 war heroes who had received Distinguished Service Crosses, Nakamura is described as:
William Nakamura, July 4, 1944, Castellina, Italy: Attacked a machine-gun nest that pinned down his platoon and was killed when the Germans attacked his platoon as it withdrew. RANK: PRIVATE FIRST CLASS -- UNIT: Co. G, 442ND -- HOMETOWN: HUNT, IDAHO
Actually, Seattle was Nakamura's hometown. Hunt, Idaho, was the Minidoka Relocation Center, the Internment Camp to which Nakamura and his family had been forced to move.
On August 21, 2008, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution urging Congress to name a planned new federal courthouse in Seattle after Nakamura. On September 19, 2000, the King County Council passed a similar resolution. Congress responded in November 2000 by renaming the existing courthouse (at Madison Street and 5th Avenue) in his honor. The new courthouse, opened in August 2004 at 7th Avenue and Stewart Street, was named simply the United States District Courthouse. The Nakamura Courthouse is scheduled to be rehabilitated and reopened as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"22 Asian Americans Finally Get Top Medals," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 22, 2000 (www.http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com); Alex Tizon, "From Medal of Honor to Courthouse Tribute?" The Seattle Times, August 17, 2000 (www.seattletimes.com); "The Japanese Vet Who Will Be Honored," International Examiner, June 7-20, 2000 (http://www.xaminer.com); Mike Carter, “Courthouse Form Follows Function,” The Seattle Times, August 12, 2004 (www.seattletimes.com).
Note: This essay was corrected on December 3, 2008.
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