Chinese-American World War II veterans received a Congressional Gold Medal during a virtual ceremony Dec. 9.
Several Chinese-American veterans spoke during the event and accepted the medal virtually.
“We answered the call to duty when our country faced threats to our freedom,” said 102-year old Army veteran Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, who served as a nurse with the 14th Army Air Force in China. “Now, I welcome my fellow veterans who are watching, for the many who are not able to watch or who have already passed on. May they be with us in spirit.”
The 20,000 veterans collectively received the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow, said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, whose father, Justin, was an Army radio communications sergeant in Okinawa.
“It was a life-changing experience for him,” Chu said. “He formed bonds with his fellow service members, men he would have never known otherwise, but whose bonds were strengthened by their shared sense of purpose. They were serving a cause and a country they believed in.”
The eligibility for Chinese American veterans are those who served between Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946 in one of the military services or Merchant Marine as an officer or enlisted.
An estimated 20,000 Chinese-Americans served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. Approximately 40% of those were not U.S. citizens due to laws that denied citizenship to people of Chinese descent. Chinese-Americans served in all branches of the armed forces and all theaters of the war.
Many Chinese-Americans served with 14th Air Force in the China-Burma-India theater. Serving under Claire Lee Chennault, Flying Tiger members flew dangerous missions over the Himalayas, known as “the Hump.” Crews defended the Chinese end of the Hump route and supported the Chinese army. In May 1943, Flying Tigers using B-24s bombed Japanese shipping off the Chinese coast. Much of the bombers’ available flying hours, however, were spent hauling their own supplies over the Hump in support of bombing missions.
One Chinese-American received the Medal of Honor during World War II: Army veteran Francis B. Wai.