The Seattle Times ran a front page story on June 17, 2019, detailing the effort to recognize Chinese American WWII veterans. This recognition comes 74 years after the end of that war, but it is never too late to recognize and to honor their service.
According to the Seattle Times article, “while up to 20,000 Chinese Americans served in the military during WWII, about 40% were not even granted citizenship, according to the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act.”
The reason for this goes back into the 19th century.
In 1882, the United States government passed the first immigration ban, singling out the Chinese in the Chinese Exclusion Act. This Act was passed after the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. Large numbers of Chinese laborers had been the backbone of the crews that built the western element of that huge and important national infrastructure project. The construction of that project from San Francisco through the Sierra Nevada mountains of California to Promontory, Utah required boring several tunnels through the mountains and building many bridges.
The lion’s share of that labor was done by Chinese immigrants.
They were hard working, talented engineers. After completing the Transcontinental Railroad, many started businesses or farms of their own and became prosperous. Many west coast cities saw them as a problem and resented their presence and began deporting them en masse. This prejudice against the Chinese immigrants brought about Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which severely limited Chinese immigration and their ability to obtain American citizenship.
This Act was not repealed until 1943, 61 years later, in the middle of WWII.
Still, 20,000 Chinese-Americans volunteered to serve in our armed forces in WWII. They fought both in Europe and in the Pacific and came home, like so many other minorities at that time in American history, to the realities of racial and institutional prejudices. Though they had, once again, proven their patriotism and valor, they still had to deal with the lingering effects of racial prejudice. They did so humbly.
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Veteran Gene Moy, who served in the Pacific in places like New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, and the Philippines said about the Congressional Gold Medal, said, “It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened. But I never expected to get the medal—I didn’t even think about it.”
Though he is 102 years old, Moy plans to go to Washington, D.C. to attend the award ceremony, which will be sometime in December of this year. Most of these Chinese American veterans have died and, like their peer WWII veterans, only a few remain with us today.
In 2016, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) started the effort to get these veterans recognized for their patriotism and their service to the nation during WWII. They are going to be awarded with the Congressional Gold Medal sometime toward the end of this year. Sixty-eight senators have signed a document in support of this effort.
According to the Seattle Times article by Elise Takahama, “…the challenge [at this time] is to identify as many eligible Chinese-American veterans as possible to register for the award.”
Ed Gor a former president of CACA says that, If the veteran has died, their families can register on their behalf. As of now some 1,300 of these veterans have been approved to receive the medal. Of these only 180 are still alive.
A local Seattle filmmaker and former television news reporter, Mimi Gan, is working on telling some of their stories in a documentary about their service during WWII. She is quoted in the article saying, “There’s so many stories out there. The first woman, The Chinese-American family that had seven brothers who fought in the war. Talking to a prisoner of war…”
She has a huge job ahead of her, but she is doing this to honor these veterans who were, “risking their lives overseas, but also battling prejudice within their own country.”
It is a historical reality that many minority groups in this country have served the country’s needs nobly and patriotically in times of war. They were moved as much by patriotism and a love of liberty as any American veteran. They loved what this country promised in its Declaration of Independence and its Constitution. And they were willing to fight for it and even to give their lives for it just as much as any American.
The Seattle Times article also mentioned the other minority groups who fought for this country during WWII that have been recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal over the last decade or so. The Japanese American Nisei veterans, who fought even though their families remained held in internment camps the whole time they fought, suffered and died for freedom on the battlefields of Europe; the Tuskegee Airmen, the Native American Code Talkers, and Filipino veterans who were stripped of their status as U.S. military veterans after the war.
The Veterans Site is glad to see that the Chinese-American WWII veterans are going to receive the recognition due to them with this Congressional Gold Medal award. Though the struggle to overcome the realities racial prejudice is still very much with us, it is always good to see the patriotic and noble service of these fellow Americans finally being publicly recognized in the form of the nation’s highest civilian award.
Though there are few of these Chinese-American WWII veterans still with us, it is never too late to honor their sacrifices on behalf of this nation.
Learn more about some of the recipients in the video below.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.