The One Classified Medal of Honor

| January 20, 2013

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.

Category: Historical, Real Soldiers

Comments (18)

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  1. Old Trooper says:

    Thanks for the story Hondo.

    I think we should take up a collection to get Cpl Miyamura a motorized wheel barrow to carry his over-sized set around. He’s 88 after all, so it’s got to be tiring for him to do it himself.

  2. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    He was literally, indeed, an Army of one. (Tandem wheelbarrels, OT, one for each.)

  3. DefendUSA says:

    This is an awesome thing! Hoo-ah!!

  4. Old Trooper says:

    @2: true dat!

  5. jz638 says:

    As shown in the article, military awards can be classified, but to do so also classifies the fact that the awardee was awarded (and therefore claiming or wearing the decoration in a nonsecure environment is a breach of classified information) thus the practice is extremely uncommon. Justifications for awards, however, can contain classified information since they are internal documents and can remain within secure environments. The award citation, the thing on the certificate that gets read off in the awards ceremony and accompanies the medal, is included in a serviceman’s personal records, and even if the justification is classified, will almost certainly be sanitized and unclassified.

  6. Jamie W says:

    When I was in A 2/7 Inf. we re named our chow hall after CPL. Miyamura. Was afforded the opportunity to meet him after the ceremony. He was one of the humblest men I’ve ever met.

  7. Just an Old Dog says:

    Even calling that “Classified” is a stretch the only thing classified was them withholding information that he was going to be awarded the medal and the paperwork leading up to it. He was awarded the Medal in a public setting and the citation was public knowledge. The Action he won it in was not classified and was like every other action that led to a MOH being awarded.

  8. TSO says:

    Hondo- Not sure if you knew this or not, but at the 2000 inauguration I was Mr. Miyamura’s escort. I went to lunch and dinner with he and his wife. Both were in camps during WWII because they were of Japanese descent. When he got out he wanted to prove how much he loved America. After the war he opened a gas station in Arizona (Tucson if I remember correctly). He and his wife are absolutely wonderful people.

    They are in DC right now I believe for the American Legion’s Medal of Honor Inaugural Ball, but I don’t know for sure, as I am not there this year.

  9. 68W58 says:

    Hondo-I seem to recall that the first DSC awarded for the current conflicts (awarded to an SF officer for his actions shortly after the initial invasion of Afghanistan) was originally awarded without publication of his name-which was not revealed until later. It occurred to me at the time that maybe the Army did not want to make him a target for terrorists or reveal the name of an operator. Anyway, that’s my recollection of the events-does anyone else recall this?

  10. Hondo says:

    Just an Old Dog: actually, CPL Miyamura’s MOH was indeed formally classified until he was confirmed to have been repatriated – multiple accounts I’ve read say at the TS level. It was reputedly one of the closest-kept secrets of the Korean War.

    68W58: that may well be true, though I can’t say I remember hearing that. However, not publicizing something isn’t the same as officially declaring it to be classified. I don’t know of any other MOH (or other high decorations for valor, for that matter) that were actually formally classified, even temporarily. Miyamura’s was. There may be others, but I’ve not ever run across accounts or mention of them.

    TSO: I didn’t know that. You’re a lucky man, amigo. I’d give much for such an opportunity.

  11. OWB says:

    Wonderful post, Hondo. All most of us can do is to silently thank men like this one. And we do.

    But thank you as well, TSO, for representing us all as you escorted him.

  12. Anonymous says:

    @ Jamie, I was in 3/7 when they did that, and shortly after that saw him at the Brigade ball. Looking at him with that smille he always had, you would never know the hell he went through over there. Cottonbalers by God!

  13. LIRight says:

    If I could echo OWB’s sentiments….Hondo and TSO for your commentary – – – thank you! Great story.

  14. WigWam says:

    100th Battalion of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. You shouldn’t expect anything less from anyone that has served in that unit. Nation’s finest

  15. 3C3P says:

    Salutes to CPL Miyamura.

  16. Andy Kravetz says:

    Thanks for the story and the information. Makes my day to read about such a man.

  17. 11B vet says:

    Hershey’s hometown of Gallup, New Mexico also has his name plastered everywhere. Even the section of the I-40 that runs through it is called Miyamura Highway.

  18. Detn8r says:

    You mean the brass got one right!?!? Outsanding in keeping this heroes identity on the low.

    True American Hero!