Chinese American WWII vets who served despite being denied U.S. citizenship honored by Congress

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Chinese Americans who fought successful World War II were honored connected Saturday pinch a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony. Six veterans gathered astatine nan National WWII Museum successful New Orleans to judge nan grant connected behalf of nan thousands of their peers that served successful nan war. It’s nan highest nickname Congress tin springiness to a U.S. civilian.

Around 20,000 Chinese Americans served during WWII, though upon their return to nan U.S. they faced rampant favoritism and laws for illustration nan Chinese Exclusion Act, which made it intolerable for astir Chinese immigrants to go citizens. Since nan enactment wasn’t repealed until 1943, it meant galore Chinese members of nan U.S. equipped forces weren’t citizens astatine nan clip of their work successful WWII.

The Congressional Gold Medals received by Chinese American World War II Veterans, connected March 9, 2024 successful New Orleans.The Congressional Gold Medals received by Chinese American World War II Veterans.Frank L Aymami III / Courtesy of The National WWII Museum

In 2018, aft a push by Chinese veterans groups, Congress passed a measure collectively honoring them pinch a Gold Medal, nan highest nickname Congress tin springiness to a U.S. civilian. The ceremonial was expected to beryllium held successful Washington but was delayed by nan pandemic. Similar nickname has been fixed to Japanese and Filipino American WWII veterans successful erstwhile years.

Six of these Chinese American veterans, galore now successful their 90s, were honored Saturday arsenic they were called one-by-one to judge their medals. The representatives coming to judge nan medals were a operation of U.S.-born Chinese servicemembers and immigrants from China who were later drafted.

“I’m very honored and humbled to beryllium selected to do this,” said Arthur T.S. Shak, an Army seasoned from Hawaii. “We are truthful grateful. … Mahalo to nan National WWII Museum president.” 

Arthur T.S. Shak, U.S. Army Air Corps, holds his certificate honoring nan Congressional Gold Medals received by Chinese American World War II Veterans, connected March 9, 2024 successful New Orleans.Arthur T.S. Shak, U.S. Army Air Corps, holds his certificate honoring nan Congressional Gold Medals received by Chinese American World War II Veterans.Frank L Aymami III / Courtesy of The National WWII Museum

The different 5 honorees were William Shih Yin Ching, Wai Hoo Tong, Donald T.S. Lee, Harry G. Jung and Wing Fook Joseph Li.

Robert M. Lee, different Chinese American WWII vet, told NBC News successful 2020 that joining nan service was his only choice. As a caller migrant to nan U.S. from China, he was incapable to enroll successful schoolhouse aliases find work, truthful he enlisted astatine conscionable 14 years old.

At nan time, Lee said he’s happy astir nan efforts to admit his chap Chinese American WWII veterans. But he wishes it had travel sooner.

“I was elated connected my behalf, of course, but very disappointed that it was truthful precocious that galore group would not unrecorded agelong capable to person it,” he said successful 2020.

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Sakshi Venkatraman

Sakshi Venkatraman is simply a newsman for NBC Asian America.