For Family & Country
Centenarian Receives Congressional Gold Medal
By Seth Sandronsky
Paul C. Dong, a Land Park resident, knows a thing or two about achievements and milestones.
He is 100 years old — and a U.S. Army veteran who recently received the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his outstanding military service during World War II. The medal is the highest civilian award Congress grants.
The Army trained him as a tank driver and engineer. He served in the Philippines where U.S. forces fought the Japanese, as did his brother Ben. “I saw the most beautiful sunset ever in Manilla,” Dong says.
A Sacramento High graduate, he enlisted in the Army as a U.S.-born citizen at age 21. Against that backdrop, Chinese Americans experienced many forms of discrimination emanating from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that restricted the immigration from China. The Chinese Exclusion Act arrived 19 years after scores of Chinese laborers began building the transcontinental railroad. The act was repealed in December 1943, as World War II raged.
During the war, there were 100,000 Chinese Americans in the U.S. About 20,000 served in the armed forces, a testament to their patriotism.
Dong received a letter from the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project that acknowledged his service: “The United States remains forever indebted to the bravery, valor, patriotism and dedication that the Chinese American Veterans of World War II displayed in defending and protecting democracy, at home and overseas.”
Later, after the war ended, Dong married Jeanne, who traveled to the U.S. from Canton, China. “She was my war bride,” Dong shared during a backyard ceremony awarding him the Gold Medal. Jeanne began as a cannery worker. Later, she worked for the state as a keypunch operator. She passed away in 2013.
The couple wed in Sacramento, where they reared four children: Alvin, Julie, Harvey and Michael. As the breadwinner for his young family, Dong went to work as a mechanical engineer for the state of California. He studied mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley.
Becoming a homeowner presented Dong with challenges. He used the GI Bill to purchase a home directly from a builder due to restrictive covenants discriminating against Chinese Americans and other minorities. He retired in the 1980s.
One thing is certain. Dong was there for his country and family when it mattered.
Seth Sandronsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.