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 By Greg Hugh

 

It has been a long and uncertain journey, but Chinese American veterans who served their country in World War II were finally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Dec. 9, 2020.  

Efforts to enact the Congressional Gold Medal Act for these Chinese American veterans first began in December 2016.  An exploratory committee led by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) set out to secure the support of members of Congress.  The bill, first introduced to the Senate and the House of Representatives in May 2017, was ultimately passed on and signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 20, 2018.

 

The bills were the result of a campaign organized by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (C.A.C.A.) lead by E. Samantha Cheng, who started the lobbying effort to recognize Chinese American service members 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.

Although it has taken 75 years after the war ended, thousands of Chinese American World War II veterans have been finally honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.  The official ceremony was originally planned to take place over four days this past spring, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, it had to take place as a virtual ceremony.

Following are a few excerpts from the ceremony that included Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressional Leadership and other members of Congress.

Speaker Pelosi. “ Hello.  As Speaker of the House, it is a privilege to welcome you all to this celebration of courage and patriotism.  We come together today to bestow Congress’ highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, on the valiant Chinese American Veterans of World War II.  

“Thank you to the Members of Congress whose tireless efforts were instrumental in making this momentous event possible, and to the U.S. military leaders representing each branch of the armed services.

“Thank you, as well, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Judy Chu, Congressman Ted Lieu, a proud veteran, and our bipartisan, bicameral Congressional leadership for helping to ensure that this virtual ceremony would be such a wonderful success.

“And finally, thank you to all those joining us online to recognize and pay tribute to the Chinese American heroes of World War II.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, at this time, please stand as you are able for the presentation of colors and the national anthem.

Nearly 80 years ago this week, more than 2,400 Americans were killed in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, propelling America into World War II and changing the course of history.  In the aftermath of that infamous day, Americans of all backgrounds stepped forward to defend our nation.

Despite decades of systemic racism, discrimination and xenophobia, as many as 20,000 Chinese Americans bravely answered the call to serve to defeat tyranny and to safeguard freedom for all.  Shamefully, due to the hateful laws of the time, including the bigoted Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were unable to gain U.S. citizenship.  Still, in the face of this injustice, approximately 8,000 Chinese immigrants who were denied their rights proudly served.

The patriotic Chinese Americans who served hailed from every state in the union, served in every branch of the U.S. military and courageously fought in every theater of the war.  And wherever they served, their heroism helped secure victory for the Allies and advance the promise of liberty for people around the world.

Today, with fewer than 300 Chinese American veterans of the Greatest Generation remaining, it is more important than ever that we honor their service and remember their sacrifice.  We pay tribute to our Chinese American veterans not only as defenders of democracy, but as an inseparable part of the fabric of our country…

In bestowing on them the Congressional Gold Medal, our Chinese American WWII veterans can now take their rightful place in the pantheon of American heroes.  In accepting this award, they bring luster to it, as their service brings luster to the United States of America.

On behalf of the United States Congress and all Americans, I am pleased to present this Congressional Gold Medal to the Chinese American veterans of WWII in recognition of their bravery and service and as an expression of our deepest gratitude and respect. “

Hundreds of celebrants watched the ceremony hat concluded with a prayer streamed on Youtube t.  Old photos of the veterans in uniform scrolled across the screen, displaying-the faces of brave Americans.

This is the link to watch the video.

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 Back row: Members of the American Legion Lt. Kim Lau B.R. Post 1291 of New York, celebrating the passage of the Congressional Gold Medal for Chinese American World War II Veterans. Tommy Ong, Karen Chan, Kenny Wong, Fang Wong, Barbara Wong, Shirley L. Ng and Corky Lee. Front Row Five Chinese-American Veterans were recognized during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony celebrating their service at VA’s Central Office in Washington, D.C., in January 2019.: World War II Veterans: James L. Eng, Harry Jung, Henry (Hank) Lee, Robert M. Lee and Elsie C.Y. Seetoo.

 

What was extraordinary for these 20,000 Chinese American veterans was the choice they made in the face of gross prejudice despite facing racial discrimination at home, including the despicable Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that remained in place until 1943.  These men and women were proud to serve our country even though this law prevented them from becoming U.S. citizens.  Congressional Gold Medals have already been awarded to Japanese American and Filipino American WWII veterans as well as the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers for their World War II service.  Thus, the medal for Chinese American veterans who served in WWII finally recognizes for the accomplishments in the United States as well as their patriotism as Americans.

 

Background on the Congressional gold medal

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The obverse and reverse of the medal.

Obverse Inscriptions

  • Chinese American veterans
  • World War II
  • Proudly served as Americans
  • Distinguished service

 

Reverse Inscriptions

  • Army
  • Army Air Forces
  • Marines
  • Navy
  • Coast Guard
  • Merchant Marine
  • Act of Congress 2018

For more information on the medal, visit the U.S. Mint’s website.

 

Public Law 115-337 is the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act. Congress introduced bi-partisan legislation May 4, 2017, in the U.S. Senate (S.1050) and U.S. House of Representatives (H.R.2358). President Donald Trump signed the law Dec. 20, 2018.

The obverse design depicts Chinese American service members and a nurse, representing all United States service branches in World War II and highlighting that they fought in every theater with honor.

The reverse design features an Iowa class battleship, an M4 Sherman tank, and a P-40 Warhawk from the Flying Tigers showcased in front of a World War II-era American flag.

Simultaneous to getting the Congressional Gold Medal for Chinese Americans of World War II awarded, there were two books that have been written profiling these individuals: “Honor and Duty” by E. Samantha Cheng and “UNSUNG HEROS:Recognizing and Honoring Chinese American World War II Veterans” by  Major General William Chen (U.S. Army, retired), Editor-in-Chief.

For complete information on the Congressional Gold Medal for Chinese Americans of World War II project, visit: www.caww2.org.

 

 

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