'I didn’t think I was doing anything heroic'
Hiroshi H. “Hershey” Miyamura joined the U.S. Army in 1944 because he felt it was his job as a U.S. citizen. World War II ended just days after Miyamura was supposed to arrive in Italy.
But wanting to continue to serve his country, Miyamura joined the Army Reserve and a few years later wound up serving in the middle of the Korean War. His heroic actions April 24-25, 1951, would earn Miyamura the Medal of Honor – and result in him becoming a prisoner of war for more than 27 months.
But never once has Miyamura looked back on his decision to volunteer for military service with a hint of regret.
“I thought it was every American’s duty to do their part during the war,” Miyamura said. “I never had any regrets of being in the service. I felt it was a duty that all Americans should perform to show their loyalty to America and show their appreciation for what they have here in this country.”
On the night of April 24, 1951, Miyamura’s Company H was attacked near Taejon-ni, Korea. A machine gun squad leader, Miyamura killed approximately 10 enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, and then returned to his position to administer first aid and direct his fellow soldiers’ evacuation.
A second attack sent Miyamura back to his machine gun, killing more than 50 of the enemy until he ran out of ammunition and was severely wounded. Miyamura was presumed dead but was actually captured by the North Koreans and spent 27 months as a POW.
During his captivity, the North Koreans did finally release a list of POWs that included Miyamura’s name. But before that list was obtained, Miyamura had been posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
“When I was told that I had received (the Medal of Honor) … I remember that all I could say was, ‘What, for doing my duty?'’’ Miyamura said. “I was a machine gun squadron leader, and I didn’t want to see my men killed. I didn’t think I was doing anything heroic then. I just thought I was doing my job.”
American POWs were starved, beaten and tortured by their Korean and Chinese captors, and Miyamura was no exception. He survived his more than two years in captivity by bonding with his fellow prisoners.
“I discovered that you need friends,” he said. “You depend on each other to help you in situations like that. We’d talk about family, automobiles, food. Actually, food was the main topic. And we used to exchange different recipes of food that we liked back home.
“I found that you have to have a willpower to say that you won’t give up. I’ve seen so many young men give up. Once you give up you’re just not going to make it.”
On the day he was released, one image stood out to Miyamura. “I will never forget the look of that (American) flag flying in the breeze when we crossed over from North to South Korea,” he said. “Once we saw that flag, we knew we were back on our side again. It’s hard to describe that feeling.”
That’s why Miyamura is such a staunch advocate for protecting the U.S. flag from physical desecration. “It’s a symbol of this country,” he said. “It’s what we in the service felt we were fighting (for) and defending. It represents the United States of America. People just don’t realize that it’s a symbol of our American way of life. That’s something we should be all proud of.”