Families of Chinese-American World War II veterans from Hawai`i are urged to register to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest honor for their war-time service from Dec. 7, 1941 through Dec. 31, 1946.
Organizers of a banquet and ceremony planned for this spring in Honolulu have set up a website -- www.CAWW2hawaii.org – with information on the medal, how to register, stories of veterans, and information on how to donate to offset the cost of buying the medal and holding the banquet.
Congress voted last year to award Chinese-Americans who served during World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal and President Trump signed the bill into law.
Chinese-American soldiers enlisted in large numbers to fight for the United States, despite discrimination and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented many Chinese from becoming American citizens. More than 20,000 Chinese, out of a population estimated at 78,000 to 100,000, joined the war effort. With about 29,000 Chinese in Hawai`i in 1941, the territory was the third-largest population behind California and New York and had the highest percentage of individuals signing up.
“Many of the Chinese who fought in World War II from Hawai’i were also Native Hawaiian, so for us here in Hawai`i this is as much a recognition of Native Hawaiian warriors as it is for Chinese heroes,” said retired Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, the co-chairman of the Chinese American World War II Recognition Project – Hawaii.
For example, Capt. Francis Wai, who received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his actions in the Philippines, was both Chinese and Native Hawaiian. Wai landed at Red Beach on Leyte in October 1944 and found the men who had landed before him disorganized and leaderless on an open beach, Wai assumed command and disregarding heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire, repeatedly exposed himself to draw enemy fire so the soldiers could locate enemy positions. Wai led his men inland through rice paddies and was killed while leading an assault on a final Japanese pillbox. His Medal of Honor citation notes that Wai’s efforts were largely responsible for securing the beachhead and his courageous leadership inspired his men to advance, even after his death.
Chinese World War II veterans served in all military theatres and services during the war and did not have their own segregated unit like Hawai`i’s Japanese and Filipino World War II veterans. The veterans include women, as well as men, who served in the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines.
Lee emphasized that families need to register soon to receive the medal and not wait until the last minute. The process involves gathering paperwork to confirm a family member’s service and can take several weeks to complete.
“If families are gathering for the holidays, it’s a good time to talk about a relative’s World War II service and start the process of registering,” Lee said.
So far, there are only about 160 completed registrations, including about 29 survivors from Hawai`i.
Lee notes that like other members of the Greatest Generation, the Chinese from Hawai`i came back from their service and became leaders in the community, helping build the Hawai`i we know today.
Among the Hawai`i Chinese-American veterans are two U.S. Senators – Hiram Fong and Daniel Akaka, Chief Justice William Richardson, who was a captain in the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, and Rear Admiral Gordon Chung-Hoon, who was the first Asian American Pacific Islander to graduate from the Naval Academy and to become an admiral.
Their stories and the stories of other veterans are preserved on the CAWW2hawaii.org website and the national caww2.org, Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project website. Families of veterans should also send information on the veterans’ service to both the Hawai`i and national organizations so their family member’s service can also be recognized.
Donations for the Hawai`i Chinese-American recognition project can be given online at CAWW2.hawaii.org website. Large donors should email email@example.com for information on how to contribute a check.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Thad Cochran and Reps. Ted Lieu and Edward Royce introduced the Chinese American WWII Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Act in 2017. Hawai`i Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Coleen Hanabusa signed on as co-sponsors and Rep. Ed Case voted for the bill when it passed the House on Dec. 12, 2018. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Dec. 20, 2018.
A design for the medal is pending approval by the Secretary of the Treasury. A ceremony will likely be held in the spring in Congress to award the medals. Medal ceremonies will be held in different states following the ceremony in Washington D.C. with Hawai`i’s ceremony likely to take place later in the spring.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce is planning the ceremony and banquet. AARP Hawai`i is one of the first contributors to the effort, having also contributed to the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for Filipino World War II veterans.
This story is provided by AARP Hawaii. Visit the AARP Hawaii page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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