Chinese-American veterans' Congressional Medal ceremonies are delayed — and the vets are dying

Elizabeth Howe
May 27, 2020 - 1:52 pm
Chinese-American Congressional Gold Medal

VA

In 2018, the more than 18,000 Chinese-Americans who served in World War II were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Now, the coronavirus pandemic is delaying award ceremonies -- and some awardees won't live to receive the medal. 

A D.C. awards ceremony planned for late April to recognize Chinese-American World War II veterans has been postponed with no official rescheduled date yet announced. And according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, six of the veterans eligible for the award have died since the original ceremony date. Fewer than 300 of these veterans now survive. 

A representative from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office said that the D.C. office still hopes to reschedule the ceremony for some time this year. 

Before 2018, Chinese-Americans are the only U.S. minority group not previously recognized for their military service during World War II. Native Americans and Navajo Code Talkers; Tuskegee Airman; Montford Point Marines; Women Air Force Service Pilots; Japanese-Americans and Filipino veterans have all been recognized for their service during World War II with Congressional Gold Medals.

Michael M. Ego Gold Medal to honor Chinese-American WWII veterans

At the beginning of World War II, 29,000 persons of Chinese ancestry were living in Hawaii and another 78,000 lived on the mainland of the United States. More than 13,000 of these individuals would serve in the Army Ground Forces and Army Air Forces. An estimated 40 percent of Chinese-American soldiers were not native-born citizens. 

One of these soldiers, Capt. Francis B. Wai received the Distinguished Service Cross. He was born in Hawaii to a Chinese father and a Native Hawaiian mother. After graduating from the Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at Los Angeles, Wai enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard and was called to active duty in 1940. He earned his commission through officers candidate school in 1941 and was assigned to the 34th Infantry, part of the 24th Infantry Division. On October 20, 1944, his unit landed at Leyte in the Philippines. He was killed in action while leading soldiers off the beach against accurate and concentrated enemy fire.

A look at Asian American Pacific Islander veterans who've been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal

Five of these veterans received the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in January of 2019. Read more about the five honorees here.

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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