Chinese American soldiers have served the United States since the Civil War. Wearing both Union and Confederate uniforms, 58 Chinese Americans soldiers joined the battle and marched together with other American soldiers.
During the Second World War, there were fewer than 120,000 Chinese American residents living in the United States. Still, 20,000 Chinese American veterans served the United States in the War. Nobody knows how many of those veterans remain alive today, with estimates ranging up to just one thousand.
A campaign by descendants and supporters of Chinese American veterans aims to honor these veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal, reports CGTN.
Corky Lee, a Chinese American photographer whose father served in the war, met lawmakers on the Capitol Hill several times on one cold morning.
“The World War Two veterans have always been considered America’s ‘greatest generation,’ but it’s basically White,” he said to CGTN.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant exclusionary law restricting immigration to the United States. As noted by its name, the Act largely targeted Chinese Americans in attempts to placate those concerned about maintaining a White “racial purity” in the 19th century. The passage of the Act led to beginning of eight decades of racist policies targeting the Chinese, followed by the Japanese and then the Filipino Americans.
“The one thing I never got to ask my father – because I guess I was never mature enough to ask him was – ‘Why is it that you couldn’t become a citizen, you couldn’t vote, you couldn’t testify in court. Why would you fight for a country, and possibly die, you know, fighting for a country that didn’t see you as a possible citizen or even a human being?” Lee said.
Last year Boston City Council President Michelle Wu, the first Taiwanese American and the first Asian American woman to serve on the council, filed a resolution to recognize Chinese American WWII veterans. The Council passed the resolution on Sept. 11 at its weekly meeting.
Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who co-sponsored a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal collectively to Chinese Americans as part of the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project.
“More than 13,000 brave Chinese Americans volunteered to risk their lives to protect their fellow Americans from our enemies during World War II,” she said. “Their unwavering commitment to their country even after being initially turned away should be recognized, and it’s important we honor this brave group of veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor in the United States. Many Filipino and Japanese American veterans have been awarded with the honor. But none of the Chinese Americans have been.
William Chen is the first Chinese American to become a two-star Major General in the U.S. Army. His father supported operations of the Flying Tigers American Volunteer Group.
“They became known and recognized by the American people and that helped open up opportunities for all Chinese Americans and Asian Americans after World War Two,” Chen said.
(Editor Note: An earlier version of this story contained a number of errors. We misidentified the people in the photo. We also incorrectly reported that no Chinese American veteran has ever been honored. That is incorrect.)
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