A Hero of World War II Salutes the Heroes of Today

By SSG Phillip Johnson
The U.S. Army Field Band

News story photo
Photo credit: SFC Rob McGiver
Mr. George Sakato, MOH recipient, congratulates Army Recruiters who are OIF veterans at an Army Field Band concert.
On October 29, 1944, on Hill 617 near Biffontaine, France, U.S. Army Private George Sakato rushed a German strongpoint alone while his unit was pinned down under heavy fire. Private Sakato’s bravery inspired his unit to charge, crushing the enemy attack, defeating a counter-attack and effectively turning defeat into victory. On June 21, 2000, for his exceptional courage and devotion to duty, George Sakato was awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor.

Just over 64 years after his heroic actions on Hill 617, Mr. Sakato, now age 87, joined The U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus in honoring veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Performing hundreds of concerts every year for the American people, The Army Field Band has the privilege of honoring those who serve and have served in our nation’s Army. At every performance, veterans and their families are recognized for the sacrifices they have made for their country. Active duty veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are welcomed as Hometown Heroes as part of Operation Tribute to Freedom, and are offered the gratitude they so richly deserve. And on rare occasions, we have the opportunity to thank those who have received that highest of military honors, the Medal of Honor.

In May 2008, Mr. Sakato and other Medal of Honor recipients attended the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, DC, which featured the Soldiers’ Chorus of the Army Field Band. It was here that Mr. Sakato learned about the Field Band and its mission. On November 11, 2008, Mr. Sakato, now living in Denver, CO, attended a performance in nearby Longmont, participated in a pre-concert question-and-answer session with the audience, and shared the stage with the Band and Chorus in a presentation honoring veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During the program, SFC Jason Disponzio, SSG William Elzi, and SSG Oded Ness, all currently assigned to the Longmont Army Recruiting Station and recent veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, joined the Field Band on stage. Following an introduction, the three Soldiers received a heartfelt standing ovation for their service, from the band as well as the audience. As the applause continued, they were met on stage by Mr. Sakato, who shook their hands, saluted them, and gave each of them a commemorative coin as a gesture of respect and appreciation.

Even for members of The U.S. Army Field Band, opportunities to meet a living recipient of the Medal of Honor are relatively few. For members of the audience to interact with Mr. Sakato was surely an unforgettable experience. But for any Soldier, to be saluted and congratulated on a job well done by a Medal of Honor recipient is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. All three of the OIF honorees described the experience as very humbling and incredibly gratifying.

“We actually found out that Mr. Sakato would be there when we arrived,” said SFC Disponzio. “We had no idea we’d be meeting a Medal of Honor winner. Getting to meet him, shake his hand, talk to him for a few minutes, and hear a little bit of his story from him was amazing.”

SSG Elzi also remembered speaking with Soldiers from the Army Field Band: “I’d heard Army bands before, but that concert was the best I’ve heard; it was an outstanding evening for my family and me. We really appreciate the work they do, and talking with them backstage, it was nice to hear they appreciate the work we’re doing, too.”

The U.S. Army Field Band is always proud to salute America’s Hometown Heroes: men and women who have answered their nation’s call and fought their nation’s wars. On November 11, we saw them saluted by George Sakato, a man who knows better than anyone what that means. Since receiving the Medal of Honor, Mr. Sakato’s name has been immortalized among the names of America’s greatest military heroes. Today he, in turn, honors the service and sacrifices of our newest generation of heroes. When I’m an old man,” said SFC Disponzio, “telling old war stories, this is something I’ll remember. For guys like him, who set the path for what we do today, to honor younger NCOs just starting their careers, it’s an inspiration. It’s something my team, my family and I will remember… forever.”

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