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Challenge Coin Tradition Honors AUSA Chapter's Namesake WWII Hero
WW II Hero Honored in Challenge Coin Tradition
In an age where the word "hero" is tossed around all too easily, William Kenzo Nakamura was the real thing. So when the Puget Sound Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) needed a lasting way to signal respect for PFC Nakamura's service, it turned to the cherished military tradition of challenge coins.
Commemorating a famed member of the "Go For Broke Regiment"
A Seattle native, William Nakamura fought in WW II as part of the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team – an exclusively Japanese-American unit that was the most decorated U.S. military regiment in World War II. Nakamura joined the U.S. Military from the Minidoka Relocation Camp in 1942. In 2000, Nakamura and 21 other Asian-American veterans were honored with the Medal of Honor.
Indeed, the AUSA's Puget Sound Chapter felt such respect for PFC Nakamura's service that it re-named itself the PFC William Kenzo Nakamura chapter. LTC(R) Doug Adams, president of the chapter, said honoring PFC Nakamura was an easy choice. "Since 2009 is the Army's ‘Year of the NCO', we wanted to take a look at enlisted men who were Medal of Honor recipients," Adams said. "After we researched Nakamura's story, it was clear to everyone in our organization that he was the right choice."
A Made-in-the-USA company was the only choice to strike the coin
To honor this American hero in metal, Adams first secured permission from PFC Nakamura's sister -- which she graciously gave. He then drew upon his own knowledge of the challenge coin tradition and began the search for the right company to produce the medallion. Adams had met Northwest Territorial Mint sales associate and AUSA member CSM(R) Bruce Proctor and contacted him again to discuss the project.
"Northwest Territorial Mint understood the significance of commemorating a military hero appropriately," Adams said. "They are a made-in-the-USA outfit and once we saw samples and the quality of work, we were sold." Now, Northwest Territorial Mint's .999- pure silver coins are handed out at special AUSA events. One was presented to the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee in honor of PFC Nakamura. Another was recently given to Lt. Lynn "Buck" Compton of "Band of Brothers" fame.
The deeds of a Medal of Honor recipient
On July 4, 1944, Nakamura displayed extraordinary heroism in action near Castellina, Italy. When PFC Nakamura's platoon took heavy machine gunfire from the enemy, he crawled towards the machine gun nest on his own initiative and threw four hand grenades, killing and wounding at least three enemy soldiers. Because of his actions, PFC Nakamura's platoon was able to safely advance.
Remarkably, Nakamura would display uncommon valor later that very day when he covered his platoon's withdrawal from a ridge. Even though PFC Nakamura was tragically killed by enemy fire during this operation, his selfless actions allowed his platoon to return to safety without further casualties.
The legacy of PFC Nakamura lives on
The accomplishments of PFC Nakamura are an ideal match with the mission of the AUSA, according to Adams. "The AUSA is focused on honor, courage, tradition, and legacy and we felt that there are few better examples of that than PFC Nakamura, "Adams said." We'll continue to honor his name as we support soldiers, families, civilians, and veterans as well as possible through AUSA."