Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, the Gallup-born son of Japanese immigrants who was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Korean War, has died at the age of 97.
Miyamura was the second-to-last living recipient of the Korean War Medal of Honor, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He died on Tuesday in Phoenix.
Miyamura was born and raised in Gallup where his parents operated a 24-hour diner near the Navajo Nation. He received his nickname from a teacher who struggled to pronounce “Hiroshi” and eventually gave up, saying she would call him “Hershey” instead.
Today a street, a park and a high school in the town are named after him.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was saddened to hear of his passing, calling him a “son of Gallup, New Mexico.”
“We are deeply grateful to him for his incredible service to our state & country – my prayers are with his loved ones,” she posted on Twitter.
Miyamura is survived by numerous family members. Funeral arrangements are being made.
He and his late wife, Tsuruko “Terry” Tsuchimori, had three children.
In a 2018 interview with the Journal, Miyamura spoke of the discrimination he and Tsuchimori faced. Tsuchimori – a Japanese woman from a family who had been forced to live at the Poston internment camp in southwestern Arizona following the attack on Pearl Harbor – died in 2014.
When Miyamura first tried to enlist as a 17-year-old, during World War II, he was told that as a Japanese-American he was classified as an “enemy alien.”
“There weren’t that many of us (Japanese) in the U.S. at that time, and the government didn’t really know much about us. They didn’t know whether we would be loyal to America or Japan,” Miyamura told the Journal. “But I considered myself to be an American like anybody else, so it was really a shock when I heard that I was considered an enemy alien.”
He eventually was able to join the 442nd Infantry Regiment – which was composed almost entirely of those born in the U.S. to Japanese immigrants – and fight in World War II after the federal government lifted restrictions on Japanese-Americans serving.
After the war Miyamura and Tsuchimori got married and had their children.
But he continued to serve in the Army Reserve and was called into action during the Korean War.
That’s where he would earn his Medal of Honor.
On April 24, 1951, then-Cpl. Miyamura was the machine-gun squad leader in a defensive position near Taejon-Ni, Korea, when Chinese forces attacked.
“Aware of the imminent danger to his men, he engaged in close hand-to-hand combat, killing approximately 10 of the enemy before returning to administer first aid to the wounded and directed their evacuation,” the Congressional Medal of Honor Society wrote in a news release announcing his death. “When another assault hit the line, he manned his machine gun until his ammunition was expended and ordered the squad to withdraw while he stayed behind bayoneting his way through infiltrated enemy soldiers to a second gun emplacement and assisted in its operation.”
Miyamura ordered his men to retreat while he continued to fight, killing more than 50 of the enemy, according to the society.
In the end, a wounded Miyamura was captured by the Chinese and taken to a prisoner of war camp, where he was imprisoned for two years and four months. He had lost 50 pounds by the time he was released.
It was while Miyamura was still in captivity that he was awarded the Medal of Honor, in secret because the U.S. didn’t want the Chinese to know who he was. President Dwight Eisenhower presented him with the medal on the White House grounds in October 1953 upon his return to the states.
He was also awarded a Purple Heart, the POW Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Back home in Gallup he worked as a mechanic and eventually opened his own garage and service station before retiring in 1985.
Miyamura remained active in veterans’ issues, giving annual lectures to crowds of hundreds of military members in Gallup until 2019. He was featured in an episode of the 2018 Netflix documentary series “Medal of Honor.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.