KENT, Wash. -- Family and friends of a Japanese-American Soldier who fought in World War II gathered to celebrate his life and to honor his military service at a memorial held Friday at St. Columba's Episcopal Church.
Mitsuru Hayashi was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal but could not attend the presentation ceremony in Washington, D.C. due to his failing health. Hayashi died Nov. 16, and his children accepted the medal on his behalf during the memorial service Jan. 6.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by U.S. Congress. Hayashi fought in Europe as a Soldier in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit composed of Japanese-American "Nisei" enlisted men that became the most highly-decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. armed forces.
"The unit is known for its 21 Medal of Honor recipients, 22 Legion of Merits and 4,000 Bronze Stars among others. It was the most decorated unit, for its size and length of service, in the U.S. Military," said Col. Steve Bullimore, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Chief of Staff.
Mitsuru received two Purple Hearts and the French Medal of Honor.
"The men of the 442nd (RCT) fought with distinction in Italy, southern France and Germany. They received over 9,400 Purple Heart medals. Mitsuru Hayashi and those like him who fought in the 442nd cast a giant shadow," said Bullimore, who presented the Congressional Gold Medal to Hayashi's three children at the memorial.
"To my family he was always just 'Uncle Mits', and we were more familiar with who he was from what he'd done after the war. He was an aeronautics electrical engineer for Boeing, and a generally quiet man," said Steven McKeen, Hayashi's nephew.
Hayashi was a veteran of one of the most storied battles of the war -- the rescue of the "Lost" 1st Battalion of 141st Regiment near Biffontaine, France.
"I remember him telling me a story about this mission, how he was hiding in the dark and close enough to see the glow from cigarettes of enemy German troops. They were involved in some heavy fighting - he and 12 others were the only survivors of their company that was 189 men," said daughter Lolly Hayashi.
Following the war, Hayashi went to the University of Illinois where he met his wife, Mary Louise. After graduating, he worked for DuPont; he then relocated his family to Seattle to work as an aeronautics electrical engineer for Boeing. He worked on supersonic transports and later was assigned to the Apollo space program in D.C. where he worked on the lunar excursion modules.
"Uncle Mits was such a remarkable man. It wasn't until recent years that we'd heard his stories from the war as he was always such a humble person. When we heard how much he had done…it was fascinating to us. We're so honored to have someone in our family recognized in this way," said McKeen.
Hayashi's son, Dr. Kim Hayashi went in his place to Washington, D.C. for three days of ceremonies in November honoring Soldiers of the 442nd RCT.
"It was emotional, deeply stirring for me. I met these men, and they all looked, dressed and acted just like dad," said Kim Hayashi.
"These soldiers fought for what this country could be, even while their families lived in internment camps," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. during Congressional Gold Medal presentations. "In the process, they paved the way to victory in World War II and a brighter future for all."
The motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was "Go for Broke," which was derived from a phrase used by craps shooters risking all their money in one roll of the dice.
The 4,000 men who initially formed the 442nd RCT in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 3.5 times through the course of World War II. In total, about 14,000 men served in the 442nd RCT.