By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
Fidelis Ad Mortem — “faithful unto death” — are the words inscribed on the new Purple Heart medal, which was bestowed for the first time Thursday morning upon 82 Los Angeles police officers who were injured or killed in the line of duty in the past 90 years. More than 1,000 attended the ceremony held at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live and hosted by the Los Angeles Police Foundation.
Officer Gary Murakami, Reserve Officer Stuart Taira and Detective Daniel Hanabusa were among those to receive the honor, which Chief Charlie Beck called long overdue.
“We’re going to do this every year and make sure this organization never ignores your sacrifice again, and that this organization loves you the way you display love for us,” Beck said.
The Nikkei officers represent three different generations of law enforcement, united by a common passion for service.
Murakami’s Purple Heart was accepted by his sister Diane Narikawa. He was shot and killed on Sept. 9, 1968 — the first Asian American officer killed in the line of duty in the United States.
He was just three days out of the academy when he answered a call of a naked man carrying a shotgun at an apartment complex at 60th Street and 11th Avenue in South Los Angeles. It was his first call as a police officer.
According to police records, Murakami and training police officer William W. Brote answered the call. Murakami, carrying a department-issued shotgun, carefully approached the suspect’s location. The suspect pointed a .410 shotgun out of a window and fired at the Sansei officer, striking him in the head and chest. Officers responding to the scene evacuated Murakami and killed the suspect. In 2007, he was posthumously awarded the Spirit of Los Angeles at the opening ceremony of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Taira was the first reserve officer killed in the line of duty when he died on March 1, 1983. His fraternal twin Steve accepted the Purple Heart and afterwards said that his brother was always passionate about police work.
“I feel very proud for Stuart. I’m sure he would have been honored. He wanted to serve, it was his main thing,” said Steve.
Taira, a reserve photographer for the Air Support Unit, was killed following a helicopter crash. On March 1, 1983, he was assigned to a helicopter to photograph the after-effects of a tornado. The helicopter crashed as it struck an unseen power line. Taira was able to escape the helicopter and tried to return to rescue his two partners, when he was struck by one of the helicopter’s rotors. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor, the LAPD’s highest honor.
His brother explained that Taira was a member of Union Church and worked at the electronics company TEAC. As a reserve officer, he set up video surveillance on the LAPD helicopters.
“He was very serious, dedicated and passionate about what he did. All he thought about and all he wanted to do was serve. This medal validates everything that he worked hard for and believed in,” said Steve.
Detective Hanabusa, who earlier this year received the Medal of Valor, was also given the Purple Heart. He continues to work at Hollenbeck Station on the Narcotics Enforcement Detail.
Hanabusa sustained gunshot wounds to his knee during a drug bust following a surveillance of a street gang on June 5, 2008. He was the first officer through the door that opened into a dark kitchen. Immediately and without warning, Hanabusa came under attack by heavy gunfire coming from the end of a hallway.
Hanabusa’s ballistic helmet was hit by gunfire just above the right eye and the force of the bullet’s impact propelled him to the ground. While on the floor in a seated position, Hanabusa returned fire, but was struck in the left knee.
He explained that it took more than a year to recuperate from his injuries and praised his family for their sacrifices.
“Our families give a whole lot to the department and lot of people don’t know that,” said Hanabusa. “When I was hurt, my wife, her family and my family pulled together to take care of my kids and make sure everything was taken care of.”
“I feel truly honored to be among officers who have given their whole life to this department — not only to the department but to the community,” said Hanabusa.