- Emily Pan
Chinese American WWII veterans honored with Congressional Gold Medal
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
Video Source: www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/chinese-american-wwii-veterans-honored-congressional-gold-medal-n1250767
On December 9, 2020, Chinese American Veterans who served in World War II were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal was initiated following the American Revolution and is an award bestowed by the United States Congress to honor individuals who have served in the military.
Seventy-five years after World War II ended, 20,000 Chinese American veterans were presented with the highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal to honor their service, heroism, and patriotism to the United States of America. Due to coronavirus concerns, the event was held virtually, and the service members still alive today, numbering fewer than 300 of the 20,000 who enlisted, were honored to be presented the award.
Among those honored was Army Capt. Francis B. Wai, who died saving fellow soldiers during an attack in the Philippines. Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo was another recipient who was born in California and studying nursing school in Hong Kong when the United States attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. She served as a nurse in China and India at a time when English-speaking nurses were desperately needed. Now 102, Chin recalls, "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" (Silva). In the most difficult of times when service was needed most, Chin said she and other Chinese Americans decided to answer "the call to duty when our country faced threats to our freedom″ (Silva).
Indeed, before and during World War II, racism against the Chinese was heavy. Racism fueled by anti-Chinese sentiment led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which prohibited most Chinese immigrants from obtaining their US citizenship and limited the Chinese population in the United States. Nevertheless, thousands of Chinese decided to enlist and support the United States, "a country that banned new entries, a restriction that wasn't repealed until 1943, and created an environment of inequality for Chinese people" (Silva). Over 20% of the entire Chinese American male population in the United States at the time enlisted in World War II, a higher percentage than any other nationality, and 8,000 more non-naturalized citizens also served for a country that denied them their freedom. In fact, it is estimated that "40 percent of veterans with Chinese ancestry who were not U.S. citizens would end up fighting in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history" (Silva). It comes to show the patriotism of so many Chinese Americans who served a country that treated them unfairly. '"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 hateful Chinese Exclusion Act that remained in place until 1943,' Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, whose father signed up to serve, said" (Silva).
Silva, Cynthia, and The Associated Press. “Chinese American WWII Veterans Honored with Congressional Gold Medal.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 11 Dec. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/chinese-american-wwii-veterans-honored-congressional-gold-medal-n1250767.