By retired Army Maj. Gen. Bill Chen
The Congressional Gold Medal is an award bestowed by the Congress and is the highest civilian award in the United States. It is awarded to persons "who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient's field long after the achievement.”
On May 4, 2017, bills were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate for the award of the Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the Chinese American veterans of World War II. Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) were lead co-sponsors of H.R. 2358 on the House side; and Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) were lead co-sponsors of S. 1050 on the Senate side.
The bills were the result of a campaign organized by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (C.A.C.A.) to recognize Chinese American servicemen and servicewomen who volunteered or were drafted when the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was still in place – they fought for their country in the face of discrimination and injustice. Established in 1895, C.A.C.A. is the oldest Asian American civil rights organization in America.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States and proscribed entry of a specific ethnic group. The Act made it illegal for Chinese laborers to immigrate to the United States and limited the Chinese population in America.
At the start of World War II, there were approximately 78,000 Chinese Americans living on the United States mainland and 29,000 living in Hawaii. Despite the anti-Chinese discrimination at the time, some 20,000 Chinese Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces -- a high percentage of the total Chinese American population. Approximately 40 percent of those who served were not citizens of the United States.
Chinese Americans made important contributions to the World War II effort. About 25 percent served in the U.S. Army Air Force (former name of the U.S. Air Force). The remainder served in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces in all theaters of war.
May and June are volatile months in Chinese history.
Ninety-seven years ago on May 4, some 5,000 students took to the streets of Beijing and trashed the houses of officials they despised in an attempt to protest foreign bullying, causing Chinese diplomats to refuse signing the Treaty of Versailles as the allies failed to return Shandong Province to China. The incident is known as the May Fourth Movement.
Fifty years ago on May 16, the Communist Party announced the start of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution followed by a decade of mass brainwashing, torture and chaos that left millions of Chinese dead. So ubiquitous was the effect of this revolution, one would be hard pressed to find someone in China today who was not touched in some way by it.