Source: DoD (Defense.gov)
When Army Staff Sgt. Edward Noboru Kaneshiro learned his fellow soldiers were in trouble in Vietnam, he didn’t hesitate to take on the enemy alone. His fearlessness and courage saved his comrades and led to mission success. More than five decades after that feat, the award Kaneshiro initially earned was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Kaneshiro was born July 22, 1928, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Japanese immigrants. He was the 8th of 16 children – nine boys and seven girls – and grew up working on his family’s farm. He graduated from Leilehua High School in June 1946 and worked for several civilian employers before enlisting in the Army on April 2, 1959, four months before Hawaii became a state.
The 30-year-old was initially stationed on Oahu with the 25th Infantry Division and served in noncombat tours in Japan and South Korea. At some point, Kaneshiro married his girlfriend, Mitsuko, and they had five children.
Kaneshiro was eventually reassigned to the 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. In July 1966, he deployed to Vietnam.
Kaneshiro was about four months into his deployment when he found himself as the leader of a squadron that was part of a search-and-destroy mission along Vietnam’s central coast. They were trying to rout the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters from the Kim Son Valley.
On the morning of Dec. 1, 1966, their platoon came upon a village. Two of the platoon’s squads had deployed to its center, while Kaneshiro’s squad scouted more open terrain to the village’s east. No one in the platoon knew the village was heavily fortified with a bunker and concealed trench system that was harboring a massive force of enemy fighters.
Those fighters eventually burst from the trenches, laying heavy machine gun and small arms fire on the U.S. soldiers in the village center. The attack killed the platoon leader and its point man, wounded four others and pinned down the rest of the soldiers.
Kaneshiro and his squad heard the assault and moved toward the sounds of gunfire. The staff sergeant saw that if anyone was going to survive, the fire from the trench had to be stopped. He ordered his men take cover, then crawled forward to attack the enemy alone, armed with only six grenades and his M-16 rifle.
While flattened to the ground, Kaneshiro threw his first grenade from the trench wall into an opening in the bunker, which took out the machine gunner who was firing at the pinned-down Americans. He then jumped into the trench and went to work. Over a distance of about 115 feet, Kaneshiro took out one enemy group with his rifle and two others with his remaining grenades. By the end of his sweep, the pinned-down Americans who were still in fighting shape were able to get back up and move their dead and wounded.
Thanks to Kaneshiro’s incredible bravery, the squads were able to get to safety and reorganize as a platoon, which led to many saved lives and a successful withdrawal from the village.
Kaneshiro survived the ordeal but unfortunately didn’t survive the war. He was shot and killed on March 6, 1967, as he tried to help a wounded comrade during an ambush, according to an article in the Honolulu Advertiser. He was 38.
Before his death, Kaneshiro had been awarded the Silver Star for his actions in the Kim Son Valley. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, he was being considered for the Medal of Honor at the time. Instead, his Silver Star was upgraded to the military’s second highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, in October 1967.
A Long-Awaited Honor
Over the past few years, the U.S. military has reviewed past service member awards to see if any should be upgraded, particularly for minorities who may have been overlooked due to bias and bigotry. In December 2021, the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress waived the time limit that required Medals of Honor be awarded within five years of the combat action.
That legislation paved the way for something Kaneshiro’s children had been requesting since the 1990s — that their father’s Distinguished Service Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. They finally got the call approving the upgrade in June.
“My whole body was shaking,” Kaneshiro’s eldest daughter, Naomi Viloria, told Stars and Stripes newspaper of the call from President Joseph R. Biden. “Sometimes I try to imagine what [my dad] went through — like, would I be able to do that? It’s very inspiring that he was just fearless. Or maybe he had fear, but he did it anyway. That takes a lot of courage, to do that alone. Since he was so humble, I believe in his mind he was just serving his country.”
Unfortunately, Kaneshiro’s wife, Mitsuko, died a few weeks before the news came.
On July 5, 2022, Biden awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to Kaneshiro. It was received by his youngest son, John, who was 4 months old when his father deployed to Vietnam. John Kaneshiro followed in his dad’s footsteps by joining the Army; he reached the rank of master sergeant before retirement.
“I’m very proud to accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of my family and just say, ‘Yes, dad, this is for you,'” John Kaneshiro said.
Over the decades, Kaneshiro has been remembered across the military community. A housing complex at Fort Detrick, Maryland, was named in honor of Kaneshiro in 1998. He was also inducted into the Gallery of Heroes at Fort DeRussy Army Museum in Honolulu in 2009.
Kaneshiro is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. His wife was buried beside him a few weeks after the Medal of Honor ceremony.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.