Family reunited with 442nd Bronze Star Medal they never knew was lost

Always Investigating

HONOLULU (KHON2) — On this 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a forgotten relic of World War II is gaining a new place of honor. It was discovered during the gutting of an old Oahu home. Its finder reached out to Always Investigating for help reuniting a family with an heirloom they never knew was there.

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The history built inside a Waimanalo home on Flamingo Street was much like anyone’s, a place where a growing family, lived and learned and loved for decades, until it came time to move on and move out quite some time ago. New owners took it over a couple years back and they had a bit of work to do to make it inhabitable again.

“We threw everything out in dumpsters, cleaned it out as much as possible, because we were hoping to rebuild it right away,” said Roger Seibel of First Quality Environmental, one of the owners. “And then here we are two years later and I thought everything was out of there.”

The COVID break in 2020 gave them some time to take on Round 2 at the fixer-upper. That’s when something caught Seibel’s eye on a high shelf.

“I saw this little box here with this kind of deteriorated cardboard and then I opened up and first thing I saw was it says ‘bronze star medal,’” he said, reading the old box cover. “So I thought it was kind of maybe a toy or something, and I was like, ‘it can’t be.’ So then, when I opened it up, oh my goodness, it looks pretty legit. Still thought, well, maybe it’s still a toy. But then when I turned it over, it has a name on it, see that? It says ‘Shigeo A. Higa.’ Yeah, it’s a bronze star. That’s probably been in here for quite a while.”

Always Investigating asked Seibel, what crossed his mind when something like that was amid what seemed to be just leftover trash?

“I know, that was the crazy thing, because it was like we had gone through here and cleaned this whole place out, and for that just to kind of randomly be sitting up there kind of shocked me,” Seibel said, “Especially something that’s a pretty important piece of history. They’re pretty amazing.”

The finders reached out to Always Investigating and I put on my lost-and-found hat. There’s more than one war veteran named Shigeo Higa — all of them deceased — but thanks to the very neat handwriting of a keiki who once lived there, scrolled in a cursive practice book from a bygone era, I knew to track down a daughter named Amy Higa.

I arranged to give her the medal and she gave me his story. Shigeo was born in Makawao, Maui. He served his country with the Go for Broke 442nd Infantry Regiment, then raised a big family while working for Pacific Concrete and Rock. He had two marriages of 25 years each, 5 children, 4 stepchildren and oodles of grandkids. He died at age 84 in 2007.

Between its rediscovery and its return to the family, Always Investigating took Shigeo’s bronze star to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. Shigeo’s columbarium plaque there states “BSM” for Bronze Star Medal, but Amy says he never told the family anything about it. She says she and the five siblings who grew up on Flamingo Street never knew this precious honor was on a high shelf under wraps all those years.

“I think the older generation, they did what they had to do, whether or not they got a medal or something for it,” Seibel said, “It was just, they were serving their country. I don’t think it was something they wanted to display out there and put out in front of everybody. I’m glad we found it.”

And glad it was returned to a grateful family, to rediscover and share a page of Shigeo’s story for generations to come.

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