UPDATE: Legislature Urges Congress to Award Medal of Honor
***Updated April 22.***
State lawmakers on Monday, April 22, voted to urge Congress to recognize the battlefield contributions of a soldier from Kona with the nation’s highest military honor.
Lt. John Ku`ulei Kauhaihao, who grew up in Honaunau, died on Sept. 5, 1969 while leading a platoon against a much larger force of enemy soldiers in the Tay Ninh Province of Vietnam.
According to House Concurrent Resolution 218, Kauhaihao demonstrated “extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty” while paying the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his soldiers and country.
Kauhaihao enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard in 1959 while still in high school.
After rising to the rank of sergeant, he attended Officer Candidate School and was a commissioned a lieutenant in 1968. Three days later he was mobilized to Vietnam as part of the 29th Infantry Brigade.
According to the resolution, Kauhaihao was leading his platoon through thick jungle on a reconnaissance mission when it encountered an enemy force of more than 500 soldiers dug into bunkers. He directed his men to take cover behind mounds covered with bamboo stands.
When his point platoon came under crossfire, Kauhaihao hacked an opening in the bamboo and hurled more than 30 hand grenades at the enemy bunkers. In the process he drew enemy fire upon himself which allowed the US troops to see the enemy and return fire.
While his platoon withdrew, Kauhaihao crawled more than 100 yards through the battleground, dragging vital equipment and wounded soldiers with him, the resolution said.
As his platoon rejoined its main force, Kauhaihao spotted North Vietnamese soldiers moving toward his men. He again engaged the enemy, this time sustaining fatal injuries from grenade shrapnel and small arms fire.
He died on the battlefield at the age of 27.
Left behind in Kona were his wife, Shirley (Ikeuchi) Kauhaihao, and their four children.
Kauhaihao was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest honor, but the resolution urges Congress to upgrade that to the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The resolution was passed April 1 by the Hawaii House of Representatives and on April 22 by the state Senate.
According to MilitaryTimes, Kauhaihao would be the 21st Medal of Honor recipient born in Hawaii and the third from the Big Island.
The others with Big Island ties were Sgt. Yeiki Kobashigawa of Hilo, who fought in World War II; and Sgt. Rodney J.T. Yano of Kealakekua, who served in Vietnam.