November 22, 1943 |
Okamoto was born to an American family of Japanese origin that was interned during the Second World War at the Poston relocation camp in Arizona. He is the youngest of the ten children of Henry and Yone Okamoto.
Following the family's release they moved to South Chicago, where his parents ran a small grocery store. The family later moved to Gardena, California, when he was twelve years old. He attended Gardena High School, where he served as senior class president. He was a three year letter man in track and football and belonged to the Men's Honor Society.
US Army and career in Vietnam
Okamoto attended El Camino College from 1962 to 1965. From 1965 to 1967 he attended U.S.C. receiving a BA in International Relations in 1967. He enrolled in the ROTC and was the first non-UCLA student to be commissioned through the UCLA ROTC program. He earned his commission as an Army 2nd Lieutenant.
After receiving Ranger training he was given orders to report to Viet Nam. In 1968, Lieutenant Okamoto was assigned as the intelligence-liaison officer for 2 months for the Phoenix Program while attached to Company B of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Infantry Division.
Second Lieutenant Okamoto distinguished himself on 24 August 1968 while serving as a platoon leader with an infantry unit near Dau Tieng. A ground attack was launched against his battalion’s night location by three reinforced North Vietnamese and Viet Cong companies. The initial assault destroyed a strategic section of the perimeter. Under heavy automatic weapons, small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, Lieutenant Okamoto moved five of his men to restore this vital position.
Realizing the need for supporting fire, he ran to a partially destroyed armored personnel carrier and manned its machine gun. After the weapon malfunctioned, he dashed through the fusillade of enemy fire to a second and then a third carrier to place suppressing fire on enemy soldiers.
After returning to civilian life, he enrolled in college and attained his law degree at USC. He also married his sweetheart, Mitzi Nishiyama on December 8, 1967. He was also instrumental in establishing the Japanese American Vietnam War Veterans Memorial at the National Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court.
Okamoto spent five years as a prosecutor and eight years practicing law privately.
On 15 April 2002, Governor Gray Davis appointed civil attorney Vincent H. Okamoto to the Los Angeles Superior Court bench. He was honored as the 2006 UCLA Veteran of the Year. Judge Okamoto has continued to serve the community on various Veterans boards, in Gardena city government.
Vincent Okamoto is a novelist as well, having penned Wolfhound Samurai: A Novel of the Vietnam War. He is currently finishing up his second publication called "Forged in Fire: The Story of Hershey and Joe" to be released by November 2012. Please see Nikkei Writers Guild for more information.
Okamoto is the highest-decorated Japanese-American veteran of the Vietnam War. His medals include
- Purple Heart with three oak leaf clusters
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Silver Star
- Bronze Star
- Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry
He was inducted Into Ranger Hall of Fame on September 1, 2007. He is the fourth Japanese American (and first since World War II) to receive the honor.