WWII Medal of Honor recipient 'shooting for 100'
November 14, 2013
DENVER -- One of only eight living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II stopped by his old stomping grounds at the U.S. Post Office - Stockyards Station, Nov. 8.
He was on his way to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a Veterans Day ceremony honoring him and the others. The old Soldier wanted to take his first look at the U.S. Postal Service Medal of Honor World War II Forever stamp prestige folio that he would unveil during a Nov. 11 ceremony.
George Sakato, 92, arrived at the post office for what turned out to be a tearful sendoff. He not only got his first look at the stamp, but he also saw many of his old friends from his 27-year career working at the post office.
"In June 2000 when President Bill Clinton presented him with the Medal of Honor, Mr. Sakato said he didn't know how he got the medal," said Drew Aliperto, U.S. Postal Service vice president for western area operations. "Let me tell you how. On Oct. 29, 1944, on a piece of land in France called Hill 617, his unit was pinned down by heavy enemy fire.
"But disregarding the danger, Pvt. Sakato made a one-man rush to destroy a stronghold.
"Proving an inspiration to his squad, he led a counterattack and turned an enemy defeat into a victory."
At the time, Sakato was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit comprised of mostly Japanese-Americans. He was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions; the award was upgraded in 2000.
As Aliperto spoke of the heroics, Sakato bowed his head.
Afterward, when asked what he was thinking about, Sakato said, crying, "All the fellows I lost -- one, two, three. I was holding him in my arms."
Sakato said there has not been a day in the last 70 years that he didn't think about what happened that day. He said the nightmares continue.
"Mr. Sakato, like everyone else, came home from the war after fighting with honor and went to work," said Air Force Col. Tom Shetter, Colorado National Guard. "Most likely, the people working with him had no idea about the things he had done.
"He would be the first to tell you that he wears that medal for all the guys he left behind on the battlefield. The story is the same among Medal of Honor recipients -- they are humble men, ordinary people who have done something extraordinary that one day or that one moment or that one time."
His last day working at the Stockyards Station post office was in 1980 before retiring, said Denver Postmaster Mark Talbott.
"According to those he worked with, Mr. Sakato was always humble and even though (his actions would later earn him) our nation's highest military award, it never kept him from working hard day in and day out."
The reunion with his friends and walk down memory lane wasn't all tearful for Sakato, though.
"I am only 92 and I am shooting for 100," he said.
The actual stamps depict the Medals of Honor for the Army and Navy. The accompanying folio includes photographs of the last 12 Medal of Honor recipients from World War II -- four of whom died after the project began. The folio also lists the names of the war's 464 servicemembers who were awarded the medal. The U.S. Postal Service issued the folio Veteran's Day, and the stamps went on sale at post offices Nov. 12.