George T. "Joe" Sakato, 94, a soldier whose heroism during World War II was not fully recognized for more than 50 years, until he and other Asian American veterans were belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony, died Wednesday at his home in Denver. He had congestive heart failure, said his daughter, Leslie Sakato.
Mr. Sakato first sought to enlist in the military not long after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. He was turned down. Even though he was born and raised in California, he was classified as an "enemy alien."
He finally joined the military in 1944, hoping to serve in the Army Air Forces. Instead, he was assigned to the infantry as part of the 442d Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Army unit composed entirely of Nisei, or second-generation Japanese American soldiers.
In the 1990s, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D., Hawaii) sponsored legislation to review the military records of Asian Americans who fought in World War II. On June 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to 22 Asian American veterans. Only seven, including Mr. Sakato and Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D., Hawaii), were still alive. (Inouye died in 2012.) Mr. Sakato was the last surviving member of those seven.
His wife of 60 years, Bess Saito Sakato, died in 2007.