WASHINGTON — Seventy-five years after World War II ended, Congress is honoring thousands of Chinese Americans who served the United States in the war, earning citations for heroism — including the Medal of Honor — despite discrimination that included limits on numbers allowed in the U.S.
Nearly 20,000 people of Chinese ancestry served in the U.S. military during World War II, including about 40 percent who were not U.S. citizens due to laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act. That law made it illegal for Chinese laborers to immigrate to America and limited the Chinese population in the U.S. for more than 60 years.
Chinese Americans served in all major branches of the military, including the so-called Flying Tigers, the 14th Air Service that flew missions in the China-Burma-India Theater. For their service to the nation during the war, Chinese-American veterans were honored at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony Wednesday.
“Despite coming from different backgrounds, Chinese-American service members fought alongside their fellow Americans with a shared love for their country,’' said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Chinese Americans “flew bomber missions over Europe, served on our ships in the Pacific, stormed the beaches of Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate Central Europe,’' Takano said during an online ceremony Wednesday. The ceremony was originally scheduled in April but postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“With this honor, we are telling a more complete story of the people who fought for the United States during World War II and the personal and systemic challenges they faced,’' Takano said.
Among those honored posthumously Wednesday were former U.S. Sens. Hiram Fong and Daniel Akaka, both of Hawaii. Fong, a Republican, served in the Army Air Force, while Akaka, a Democrat, was in the Army Corps of Engineers, stationed in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Army Capt. Francis B. Wai, who was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award given by the United States, also was recognized as a Gold Medal recipient. He was killed while saving fellow soldiers during an attack in the Philippines.
One of those honored Wednesday was Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, whose nursing studies in Hong Kong were interrupted when the U.S. entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Born in California and now 102, she served as a nurse in China and India. “About that time, the U.S. Army also came through, desperately needing English-speaking nurses,” she told KHON-TV in Hawaii in an interview last month.
“I was the only Chinese-American nurse stationed there back then. Sometimes a smallpox case that nobody wanted to handle happened. I would be the target for cases like that,” she said.
She and other Chinese Americans “answered the call to duty when our country faced threats to our freedom,” Chin said in a videotaped presentation at Wednesday’s ceremony. “We have waited a long time for this moment. I hope our perseverance and our commitment and hard work will further inspire our young people to serve this wonderful country.”