WASHINGTON — George Sakato of Denver has the distinction of participating in both a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House more than a decade ago and last week’s Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol.
On Nov. 1, the day before the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony, Sakato spoke on behalf of the veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service during a Bronze Star Medal ceremony held at the Washington Hilton. Forty medals were presented to 100th/442nd veterans or their survivors by Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno.
On Nov. 2, Sakato was among the honorees who filed into Emancipation Hall for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.
Born on Feb. 19, 1921, in Colton, Sakato graduated from Redlands High School in nearby Redlands. His family moved to Arizona during World War II to avoid interment. Sakato tried to volunteer for the Air Force in 1943, but was refused. He volunteered again in March 1944 and became part of E Company, 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
On Oct. 29, 1944, in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, he distinguished himself by inspiring an assault on an enemy stronghold and leading the fight against a counterattack. During the battle, Sakato killed 12 enemy soldiers, wounded two, personally captured four, and assisted his platoon in taking 34 prisoners.
Sakato said in recent interviews that his actions were prompted by rage — his buddy Saburo Tanamachi had died in his arms.
After the war, Sakato worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 32 years, retiring in 1980.
He received the Army’s second-highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. A 1990s review of service records for Asian Americans who received the DSC during World War II led to Sakato’s award being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
In a ceremony at the White House on June 21, 2000, he was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton. A total of 22 Asian Americans, 20 of them Japanese Americans, received the medal during the ceremony, all but seven posthumously. Among the living recipients was Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who lost an arm as a result of his wounds.