One of the most common lies a false claimant to military honors or decorations will tell people is, “My medal is classified; that’s why there aren’t any records of it.”
Yes, that’s complete bullshit. Medals and decorations are not classified, nor are their citations. And there are always records of legitimate awards and decorations.
But there actually was a classified Medal of Honor, once – some 60+ years ago. Or, more precisely: the fact that the Medal of Honor had been awarded to a particular individual was classified. And that singular example was declassified after a period of a bit over 2 years.
Korea in 1951 was a rather “hot” place. The Korean War was in full swing. During that summer, things would settle into an effective stalemate along lines fairly close to today’s DMZ between the two Koreas. However, prior to stalemate the Chinese decided to make one more attempt to conquer South Korea during the spring of that year. That attempt was the 1951 Chinese Spring Offensive.
One of the US units involved defending against that Chinese offensive was the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. They fought north of Seoul during the spring of 1951.
Corporal Hiroshi H. Miyamura was assigned to H Company, 7th Infantry Regiment. As one would expect from his name, CPL Miyamura was of Japanese-American ancestry; he was a second-generation Japanese-American. In January 1945, he’d joined the Army and had volunteered for the 100th Infantry Battalion (an all-Nisei unit). He’d been discharged from the Army at the end of World War II, but had later reenlisted. He’d been sent to Korea with the 7th Infantry Regiment.
On the night of 24-25 April 1951, H Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment was attacked by overwhelming Chinese forces and was forced to withdraw. During that withdrawal, CPL Miyamura performed heroic acts resulting in his being awarded the Medal of Honor.
His Medal of Honor citation can be found here (you’ll have to search for his name, as this is a consolidated list from the Korean War and CPL Miyamura’s citation is a bit more than 1/2 way down the page). It speaks for itself more eloquently than anything I can say. Other accounts elsewhere give more detail concerning his actions during that engagement – in particular, this one from Doug Sterner’s Home of Heroes web site is excellent. But IMO, a single sentence from the citation tells you all you need to know regarding his heroism:
“When the intensity of the attack necessitated the withdrawal of the company Cpl. Miyamura ordered his men to fall back while he remained to cover their movement.”
CPL Miyamura knowingly sacrificed himself in order to buy time for his unit’s escape. “No greater love . . . .”
After finally being driven from his position and escape-and-evading a short distance, CPL Miyamura was taken prisoner by Chinese forces. He then spent the next 28 months in captivity.
Death might have been more merciful.
However, others in his unit had seen CPL Miyamura’s heroic acts before they withdrew. They notified the chain of command. During his captivity, he was recommended for the Medal of Honor. The recommendation was approved.
This decision to award CPL Miyamura the Medal of Honor created a problem for the Army and the US Government. CPL Miyamura’s status was not initially known; however, after some time he was identified as a POW held by the North Koreans. As a result, the US decided to classify the fact of CPL Miyamura’s Medal of Honor temporarily. The classification of that fact would end when he was repatriated.
After the cessation of hostilities in Korea, CPL Miyamura was repatriated at Panmumjom on 23 August 1953. Shortly afterwards he was met by BG Ralph Osborne of the 3rd Infantry Division.
In the presence of reporters, BG Osborne told CPL Miyamura that he would receive the Medal of Honor – thus publicly announcing information that had become declassified on CPL Miyamura’s repatriation.
CPL Miyamura left the service after his return to the US. He was presented his Medal of Honor by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a White House ceremony in October 1953.
Why did the Army and US Government decided to classify this Medal of Honor temporarily? At least two factors likely contributed to the decision.
For the benefit of those who never served in Korea: CPL Miyamura’s ethnic background alone made him a marked man to be singled out for abuse by his North Korean and Chinese captors. Because of events occurring during World War II and earlier, Korea and China harbor strong animosity towards the Japanese even today.
That animosity was particularly strong in 1951 – only six years after the end of World War II. As it was, Miyamura reputedly lost around 50 pounds while a POW, and he was not of heavy build to begin with. So presumably not wanting to increase the additional abuse CPL Miyamura was already certain to receive as a Japanese-American was one factor.
Second: US officials knew that CPL Miyamura had inflicted terrific damage to the Chinese prior to his capture – and public announcement of his Medal of Honor and accompanying citation would reveal to the Chinese and North Koreans just how much. (Per CPL Miyamura’s Medal of Honor citation, he’d single-handedly killed more than 50 Chinese soldiers before being captured). As BG Osborne put it: “If the Reds knew what he had done to a good number of their soldiers just before he was taken prisoner, they might have taken revenge on this young man. He might not have come back.”
As of this date, Hiroshi H. Miyamura – MOH recipient and bona fide American hero – is still alive. He is in his 88th year.
I salute you, sir.
To date, this appears to be the only documented example in US military history of a “classified” Medal of Honor.