Kazuo Otani, SSG

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Kazuo Otani, SSG

Birthdate: (26)
Birthplace: Visalia, CA, USA
Death: July 15, 1944 (26)
near Pieve di Santa Luce, Italy (KIA Hostile Fire)
Place of Burial: Fresno, CA, USA
Occupation: 442nd Regimental Combat Team
Managed by: Ashley Odell
Last Updated:

About Kazuo Otani, SSG

Kazuo Otani (June 2, 1918 – July 15, 1944) was a United States Army soldier and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II.


Otani enlisted from the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona.

On July 15, 1944, Otani was serving as a staff sergeant in Company G of the all volunteer Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. On that day, near Pieve di Santa Luce, Italy, his platoon became pinned down in a field by an enemy machine gun and snipers. After killing one sniper, Otani shouted directions to his platoon and repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire, creating a distraction which allowed some of his men to reach cover. He then crawled to a wounded soldier who was lying in an exposed position and began rendering medical aid, but was killed by enemy fire in the process.

For his actions during the battle, he was posthumously awarded the Army's second-highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. A 1990s review of service records for Asian Americans who received the Distinguished Service Cross during World War II led to Otani's award being upgraded to the Medal of Honor. In a ceremony at the White House on June 21, 2000, his surviving family was presented with his Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton. Twenty-one other Asian Americans also received the medal during the ceremony, all but ten of them posthumously.

Otani, aged 26 at his death, was buried in Veterans Liberty Cemetery, Fresno, California.

Medal of Honor citation

Staff Sergeant Otani's official Medal of Honor citation reads:

Staff Sergeant Kazuo Otani distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 15 July 1944, near Pieve Di S. Luce, Italy. Advancing to attack a hill objective, Staff Sergeant Otani's platoon became pinned down in a wheat field by concentrated fire from enemy machine gun and sniper positions. Realizing the danger confronting his platoon, Staff Sergeant Otani left his cover and shot and killed a sniper who was firing with deadly effect upon the platoon. Followed by a steady stream of machine gun bullets, Staff Sergeant Otani then dashed across the open wheat field toward the foot of a cliff, and directed his men to crawl to the cover of the cliff. When the movement of the platoon drew heavy enemy fire, he dashed along the cliff toward the left flank, exposing himself to enemy fire. By attracting the attention of the enemy, he enabled the men closest to the cliff to reach cover. Organizing these men to guard against possible enemy counterattack, Staff Sergeant Otani again made his way across the open field, shouting instructions to the stranded men while continuing to draw enemy fire. Reaching the rear of the platoon position, he took partial cover in a shallow ditch and directed covering fire for the men who had begun to move forward. At this point, one of his men became seriously wounded. Ordering his men to remain under cover, Staff Sergeant Otani crawled to the wounded soldier who was lying on open ground in full view of the enemy. Dragging the wounded soldier to a shallow ditch, Staff Sergeant Otani proceeded to render first aid treatment, but was mortally wounded by machine gun fire. Staff Sergeant Otani's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

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Kazuo Otani, SSG's Timeline

June 2, 1918
Visalia, CA, USA
July 15, 1944
Age 26
near Pieve di Santa Luce, Italy
Fresno, CA, USA