Army Staff Sgt. Edward Kaneshiro > US Department of Defense > History

When Army Staff Sgt. Edward Noboru Kaneshiro learned that his fellow soldiers were in trouble in Vietnam, he did not hesitate to face the enemy alone. His fearlessness and courage saved his comrades and led to the success of the mission. More than five decades after this feat, the award originally won by Kaneshiro has been turned into a Medal of Honor.

Kaneshiro was born on 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 the family farm. He graduated from Leilehua High School in June 1946 and worked for several civilian employers before enlisting in the military 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 non-combat 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 was deployed to Vietnam.

Steadfast Courage

Kaneshiro was about four months into his deployment when he found himself leading 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 Vietcong fighters in the Kim Son Valley.

On the morning of December 1, 1966, their platoon came across a village. Two of the platoon’s squads had fanned out in its center, while Kaneshiro’s squad explored more open ground to the east of the village. No one in the platoon knew that the village was heavily fortified with a bunker and a system of concealed trenches that housed a massive force of enemy fighters.

These fighters eventually emerged from the trenches, firing heavy machine guns and small arms fire at the American soldiers in the center of the village. The attack killed the platoon leader and his point man, wounded four others and pinned down the rest of the soldiers.

Kaneshiro and his team heard the assault and headed towards the sounds of gunfire. The Staff Sergeant saw that if anyone was to survive, the fire from the trench had to be stopped. He ordered his men to take cover, then crawled forward to attack the enemy alone, armed with only six grenades and his M-16 rifle.

While flattened on the ground, Kaneshiro threw his first grenade from the trench wall into an opening in the bunker, which took out the gunner who was firing at the pinned Americans. He then jumped into the trench and got to work. From a distance of approximately 115 feet, Kaneshiro took out an enemy group with his rifle and two others with his remaining grenades. At the end of his sweep, the pinned Americans who were still in fighting form were able to get up and move their dead and wounded.

Thanks to Kaneshiro’s incredible bravery, the squads were able to get to safety and reorganize into a platoon, which led to many lives being saved and a successful withdrawal from the village.

Kaneshiro survived the ordeal but unfortunately did not survive the war. He was shot and killed on March 6, 1967, while trying to help a wounded comrade in an ambush, according to a Honolulu Advertiser article. He was 38 years old.

Prior to his death, Kaneshiro had been awarded the Silver Star for his actions in Kim Son Valley. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, he was considered for the Medal of Honor at the time. Instead, his Silver Star was promoted to the second highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, in October 1967.

A long-awaited honor

In recent years, the U.S. military has reviewed awards for former service members to see if any need improvement, particularly for minorities who may have been overlooked due to prejudice and bigotry. In December 2021, the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress removed the time limit that required Medals of Honor to be awarded within five years of combat action.

This legislation paved the way for something Kaneshiro’s children had been asking for since the 1990s – that their father’s Distinguished Service Cross be upgraded to a 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 the Stars and Stripes newspaper of President Joseph R. Biden’s call. “Sometimes I try to imagine what [my dad] went through – like, would I be able to do this? It is very inspiring that he was not afraid of anything. Or maybe he was scared, but he did it anyway. It takes a lot of courage to do this alone. Since he was so humble, I believe in his mind that he was just serving his country.”

Unfortunately, Kaneshiro’s wife, Mitsuko, passed away a few weeks before the news.

On July 5, 2022, Biden awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to Kaneshiro. He was received by his youngest son, John, who was 4 months old when his father deployed to Vietnam. John Kaneshiro followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the military; he rose to the rank of master sergeant before retiring.

“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 by the military community. A housing complex in Fort Detrick, Maryland was named for Kaneshiro in 1998. He was also inducted into the Gallery of Heroes at the Fort DeRussy Army Museum in Honolulu in 2009.

Kaneshiro is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. His wife was buried alongside 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 more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have won the military’s highest medal of bravery. American.

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