War vet Kuwayama, who saved Daniel Inouye’s life, dies

WASHINGTON — Yeiichi “Kelly” Kuwayama, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team combat medic, passed away June 29, the Japanese American Veterans Association said in a statement. He was 96. Kuwayama was born in 1918 in Manhattan in New York.  

He entered the U.S. Army in 1941. Initially, he was assigned to a Coast Artillery National Guard unit protecting New York Harbor, but was soon transferred from a line unit to a medical unit at Fort Ethan Allen in Vermont. Kuwayama found he had been reclassified as a “surgical technician,” despite having any formal medical training.

Kuwayama volunteered for the 442nd RCT when it was activated in 1943, and was assigned to its medical unit. After training in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the 442nd was sent to Naples, Italy, arriving in May 1944. 

Kuwayama earned the reputation throughout the regiment of treating his wounded comrades under fierce enemy fire with total disregard of his own life, the statement said. He served in one the most ferocious battles of World War II, the 442nd’s rescue of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division (often referred to as “The Lost Battalion”) in the Vosges Mountains of France. Kuwayama himself was wounded during the grueling battle near Biffontaine, France, on Oct. 29, 1944 and was hospitalized before eventually rejoining the 442nd in the Maritime Alps.

The late Sen. Daniel Inouye, also of Company E, credited Kuwayama for saving his life when he lost his right arm in theItalian Po Valley campaign in April 1945. Under enemy fire, Kuwayama was the first medic to reach Inouye, stopped the bleeding of his nearly severed arm, and saw that his platoon leader was evacuated from the battlefield, the statement said

“Besides uncommon courage, Kuwayama displayed leadership uncommon for a medic,” the statement said. When German snipers targeted the unarmed Nisei medics with their Red Cross insignia conspicuously painted on their helmets, the infantrymen in Company E, in their state of anger, decided to retaliate against enemy medics as well,”

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