By Shirley Ng, AsAmNews Staff Writer
It’s been over 70 years since WWII ended. On Saturday, Chinatown finally held a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for Chinese American WWII veterans for families of veterans in the New York and New Jersey area.
People gathered at a local Chinatown public school where three ceremonies organized by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance were scheduled for the day to accommodate the tremendous number of Chinese American veterans. Ceremonies were originally planned for 2019 after the Congressional Gold Medal bill was signed into law in December 2018, but there were delays due to COVID and other reasons.
Many families brought with them photos of the veterans. The photos were like evidence that there were Chinese American faces that served in WWII. It was these men and women of Chinese ancestry that defended this nation’s freedom that many Americans are not aware of because the history of Asian Americans is virtually absent in today’s curriculum.
Gloria Moy of Chinatown was at the ceremony to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for her father, Herbert K. Moy. “This is incredible, this is a long time coming. This means Chinese finally matter. We seem to be a forgotten population.”
When you think of the service of over 20,000 Chinese American men and women, they served proudly just like any other in the military. Many of them enlisted in hopes of improved opportunities after the war and to receive government benefits after their service despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, a racist law still valid during that time. It forbade the Chinese already in the US to become citizens and barred their people from entering the US for over 60 years. They also experienced widespread racism and “yellow peril,” as they were seen as a threat to the White man’s labor force in the US. The United States finally repealed the law 76 years ago this week.
“It’s a long-time coming,” said Peter Mark about finally receiving the Congressional Gold Medal for his father, Bing Wah Mark of the US Army. His father was a technician and Morse code translator. “I feel very proud,” said Mark.
“We owe a huge debt to our Chinese American WWII veterans. They defended the freedom that we so much enjoy. They demonstrated their skills, confidence, patriotism, and loyalty. Post World War II, they helped to open up Chinese Americans to mainstream America,” said Major General William Chen (Ret.) one of the presenters during the ceremony.
Lillian Bit and her daughter attended the ceremony together. “Finally the day has come for the tearful relief and proud recognition,” said Bit about the sacrifice and suffering of Chinese American WWII veterans. Her father, Allen Chan was a member of the Flyer Tigers and served on a base in Shanghai. Flyer Tigers were the first American Volunteer Group of the Republic of China Air Force. They were formed to help oppose the Japanese invasion of China.
Bit’s grandfather, Harry Leong also served in the Army Air Force. She doesn’t remember too much about his service and regrets not paying attention to the stories he shared when she was young. Her advice to young adults is to listen to their parents’ stories so they can be shared again in the future.
Shirley Ju, a member of The Auxiliary felt it was an honor to accept the Congressional Gold Medal for her father, Ng Chin. “My father was a mechanic in the army. He didn’t speak much about his service during WWII, but said he wasn’t able to find a job as a mechanic due to discrimination once the war was over.” Ju wished her father shared more stories with her.
A touching moment of the ceremony was the gift of the Congressional Gold Medal to Chinatown’s American Legion Lt. B.R. Kimlau Post 1291. It was received by Commander Randall Eng. The medal was a gift from the niece of Lt. Benjamin Kim Lau, the namesake of Chinatown’s American Legion.
Henry Chu’s father, Nang M. Lew was a paper son and enlisted in the army. “My father served in an evacuation hospital in the Pacific theater. He handled the x-rays. “It’s a long time coming. I’m glad he finally got it,” he said about Saturday’s Congressional Gold Ceremony. Speaking about all Chinese American WWII veterans, “they made it such a better world for us to be in,” said Chu.
Chu’s wife, Patricia was also there to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of her father, Lee Dock Sheung of the US Navy. “It’s about time that they honored the Chinese American veterans, but I’m so sad that many are not here to share this with us,” she said. Patricia felt her father enlisted as a way to find some comfort and escape the hardship they faced in the US. She said her father slept on the floor under the ironing board, but during his service, he at least had food and a bed.
The fourth-highest ranking award, the Bronze Star Medal which is awarded to a service member for heroic achievement in armed ground combat was presented to veteran Koon Y. Yee. His son Jack Yee received the Bronze Star Medal in his father’s honor.
A WWII veteran was present in the earlier ceremony to personally receive his Congressional Gold Medal. Everyone gave him a standing ovation as he walked up the stairs and across the stage to receive his medal. It is estimated that approximately 200 or fewer WWII veterans of Chinese descent are still alive today.
Over 2500 Chinese American WWII veterans hailed from New York and over 30 were from New Jersey. The final Congressional Gold Medal ceremony will be held in Honolulu in February 2022.
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