WWII vets help unveil Medal of Honor postage stamp
By C.J. LIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 11, 2013
WASHINGTON — As a Japanese-American during World War II, George Sakato felt he had to prove his loyalty to the United States.
So he enlisted in the Army in March 1944 and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit made up mostly of Japanese-Americans. In October of that year, then-Pvt. Sakato made a one-man rush on an enemy strongpoint in northern France. He killed 12 enemy fighters, wounded two, captured four and successfully defended the spot along with his platoon — a feat that would earn him the Medal of Honor.
Now, he has another accolade to add to his list: He is among the last 12 living Medal of Honor recipients from WWII who have been honored with a U.S. postage stamp set, which was unveiled on Veterans Day.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Sakato, 92, describing his reaction when he heard his portrait was going to be included on the sheet surrounding the actual stamps. “I thought someone was pulling my leg.”
His medal and now the stamp set validates the pain that Japanese-Americans endured during the era, he said. Sakato worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 27 years after he left the Army.
“This shows what we had to go through, what we stand for,” Sakato said. “We want to be looked up to rather than being looked down upon. … That’s why I joined the Army, to prove my loyalty to the United States of America.”
The USPS had chosen to honor the last 12 living MOH recipients from WWII when the effort started in January 2012. However, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Vernon McGarity, Nicholas Oresko and John Hawk died before the stamps were revealed to the public.
“They saw what they looked like, but couldn’t be here today,” said USPS spokesman Mark Saunders. “It’s really a shame.”
The stamps show the Navy and Army versions of the medal — the Air Force version wasn’t created until after the war, in 1965 — and the new format “prestige folio” set lists the names of all 464 recipients from WWII. Black-and-white portraits of the last 12 living recipients in their youth surround the actual stamps on the sheet.
“In my mind, it’s the most prestigious stamp we’ve ever issued because it honors all the recipients,” Saunders said. “These are humble Americans who did extraordinary things.”
“We hope that the stamps are small reminders of the big sacrifices that the men and women have made to keep our country free,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.
Also on hand for the dedication ceremony at the WWII memorial was Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn Ross, an Army private who manned his machine gun in front of his decimated company to stave off a counterattack from a full-strength company of elite German troops in October 1944 in France.
He singlehandedly held off six attacks despite automatic fire and grenades landing near him during a five-hour battle, wounding or killing at least 58 enemies and eventually forced the Germans to withdraw.
Ross’ portrait also appears on the stamp sheet.
“I think it’s wonderful that, hopefully, they won’t be forgotten,” said Michelle Shaw, Ross’ daughter.