SAN FRANCISCO - Throughout Memorial Day weekend, Americans remember the contributions of over 13,000 Chinese-Americans whom served in all branches of the U.S. Armed Services in all major U.S. wars since the American Civil War.
U.S. Secretary of Labor, Elaine L. Chao, said "Memorial Day…is a fitting opportunity…to honor the contributions of all veterans, including Chinese American veterans…for their role in helping our country achieve victory in Word War II," in a speech in Washington D.C. alongside Chinese-American veterans, Friday.
The honored veterans at the ceremony included those who had served with the: USAAF 14th Air Service Group, which flew operations in China, Burma, and India; U.S. Army 987th Signal Company, which assisted communication between U.S. and Chinese ground forces; American Volunteer Group, known as the "Flying Tigers."
The majority who enlisted following the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing were not considered U.S. citizens – since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had effectively barred citizenship to ethnic-Chinese regardless of country-of-origin. The U.S. Congress did not repeal the Act until 1943.
Amongst those who enlisted after the Pearl Harbor attack included Dick Hum, who now resides in Napa Valley in northern California.
"Dad remembered China, the warlord days when kids were forced into service," he said to Napa Valley register, a local paper. "He didn't want to sign my enlistment papers because he thought he'd be sending me to my death. Most (Chinese soldiers) didn't come back."
Hum later joined the Army Air Corp to be a pilot, but never received his wings. He would later retire as a U.S. Air Force colonel after serving 32 years in the Korean and Vietnam War, and as a diplomatic attaché in Hong Kong.
About a quarter of those who joined the U.S. armed forces served as pilots, support crew and staff within the Army Air Forces in China, while others fought in Europe and the Pacific islands. Most Chinese-American soldiers were assigned to regular ground forces.
One Chinese American soldier from Hawaii, Francis B. Wai, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross – the second highest award given to U.S. soldiers – after he was killed leading his comrades off the beach during a sea-landing against the Japanese at Leyte, Philippines in 1944.
According to a United States Department of Defense report in 2001, Chinese Americans have fought and died in U.S. military service since the American Civil War, in which at least 50 had enlisted into the Union Army against the secessionist southern states.
Chinese American soldiers have since then served in other wars including World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War and the more recent Iraq war.
In 1978 Congress designated May as the Asia Pacific American Heritage Month, commemorating the contributions and sacrifices of Asian American immigrants, including Chinese Americans, to the culture and society of the United States.
Correction: Tuesday, May 30, 2006:
Francis B. Wai's Distinguished Service Cross award was posthumously upgraded to the Medal of Honor alongside 21 other Asian Americans whom receive similiar awards at a White House ceremony in July 21, 2000.