With medals and memories, we honor veterans
By Corky Mau
Three Chinese American World War II veterans from the Sacramento area will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress, Oct. 30 at Elks Lodge No. 6. The Chinese American Citizens Alliance Sacramento Lodge will host the event.
The veterans—William Shih Yin Ching, Kan-Chiu Chun and Suey C. Lee—are between 95 and 100 years old. There are almost 200 Chinese American World War II veterans living in the Sacramento region. It’s an honor that these three can accept their medals in person, along with eight widows and other family members.
When the war began in December 1941, approximately 20,000 Chinese Americans volunteered or were drafted. They participated in every theater and branch of armed forces.
Due to provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibiting Chinese born outside of the U.S. to become citizens, almost 40 percent of those who served did not have citizenship, but signed up anyway. Chinese Americans remained patriotic and maintained a firm belief in service. Unfortunately, many stories of heroism and bravery are untold and unrecognized.
The Chinese American Veterans Recognition Project was launched to advocate on behalf of those veterans. The result was the Chinese American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2018.
Chinese American veterans were awarded their Congressional Gold Medals in a virtual ceremony last Dec. 9. It’s recognition long overdue, considering the war ended 75 years ago.
Lonnie Wong, former Fox40 reporter, will emcee the local event. Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Tom, U.S. Army Retired, and Rear Adm. Jonathan Yuen, U.S. Navy Retired, are scheduled to present more than 110 medals.
The Sacramento ceremony is one of many around the country. According to Ed Gor, national director of the recognition project, “The greatest number of America’s Greatest Generation came from the Northern California region to serve our country.”
Last July, my family traveled to San Francisco to accept a Congressional Gold Medal for my father, Henry Wong. He graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1943. That same day, he and two cousins decided to volunteer for military duty. They caught a bus to Fort Ord in Monterey.
After he passed his physical, he called his mother to say he was going to war. He was quickly inducted into the Army Air Force and assigned to the 407th Air Service Squadron, an all-Chinese American unit supporting the 14th Air Force’s famed Flying Tigers under Gen. Claire Chennault.
The squadron was sent to the China-Burma-India theatre. My father loved telling me stories about Sam, his pet monkey in Burma. Sam and Dad were inseparable, until one day when Sam went missing.
Coincidentally, he disappeared the same day a big dinner was planned for visiting military officials. For years, Dad claimed Sam was probably one of the entrees.
Dad was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, a Good Conduct Medal and a World War II Victory Medal. Today his Congressional Gold Medal is proudly displayed in my mother’s home.
My father died in 1990 from liver cancer. He led a full life until the end. Proud of his service with the Flying Tigers, he enjoyed reunions with squadron buddies in San Francisco. He formed bonds with men he served with, bonds strengthened by a shared sense of purpose and patriotism.
With Veteran’s Day upon us, I reflect on the military service of my father and his squadron buddies. We should be forever indebted to men and women who served in the armed forces. Their bravery, valor and patriotism to defend and protect our democracy will not be forgotten. Take a moment Nov. 11 to salute and thank a veteran.
Corky Mau can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.