Barney Hajiro, American Hero

Barney Hajiro, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000, 56 years after he earned it, died a few weeks ago at age 94. The New York Times ran a lengthy obituary in recognition of his valor, which has been immortalized in many works, including Just Americans.

Hajiro was one of the many members of the 100th Battalion and 442d Regimental Combat Team I interviewed during my research for Just Americans. He was — like all the veterans I spoke to — modest to a fault. It was hard to picture the frail but dignified gentleman I met as either a “goof-off,” as he described himself, or a troublemaker, as some others called him (he had been court-martialed twice), much less as the heroic leader of the famous banzai charge up Hill 645 to rescue the “Lost Battalion” of the 36th Infantry Division in October 1944.

“The great victories of the United States have pivoted on the acts and courage and intelligence of a very few individuals,” S.L.A. Marshall wrote in Men Against Fire. “Every worthwhile action comes of some man daring what others fear to attempt.” Although Marshall was writing in a different context, his words could have described Hajiro. They are a fitting tribute to a man who fought for his people and his country — an exemplar of selfless courage that should amaze and inspire us all.