History

Chinese American WWII veterans honored at 70th anniversary of V-J Day

Dr. Herbert Yee, a Chinese American Veteran of World War II speaks during a ceremony to honor Chinese American veterans at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department in South Sacramento, September, 12, 2015.
Dr. Herbert Yee, a Chinese American Veteran of World War II speaks during a ceremony to honor Chinese American veterans at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department in South Sacramento, September, 12, 2015. apayne@sacbee.com

History came alive Saturday when a dozen Sacramento-area Chinese American veterans were honored at the Sheriff’s Florin Service Center to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Nearly all in their 90s, the veterans played a key role in the Pacific war effort, even though many faced discrimination back home due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that restricted Chinese immigration and prevented them from owning property.

“Word War II united Americans as no other event, and in 1943, the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed,” said Dr. Jiang Jong “Joe” Zhou, co-chair of the event commemorating V-J Day.

State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said he probably wouldn’t be in the U.S. “if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of these men here today.”

Seventy years ago, after Pearl Harbor, these men stepped up and showed all Americans how devoted we were to this country.

State Sen. Richard Pan

“Seventy years ago, after Pearl Harbor, these men stepped up and showed all Americans how devoted we were to this country ... and my parents were allowed to emigrate here from Taiwan after World War II,” Pan said.

Not only did the veterans help end discrimination in the United States, their service is honored today in China, said event co-organizer Rung Fong Hsu.

More than 14 million Chinese civilians died at the hands of the Japanese from 1937-1945 with some of their descendants now living in Northern California, Hsu said. The government in Beijing commemorated the anniversary with a massive military parade on Sept. 3.

Hsu said veterans must tell their stories to young people “who are so good at modern technology but know little about history.” That task has become even more urgent with World War II veterans dying at a rate of 1,000 a day, said Freeman Lee, whose late father fought in the China-Burma theater with the U.S. Army.

The Sacramento men honored Saturday fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Robert W. Fong, 89, recipient of the Bronze Star and several others awards, was in the battle of Luzon and helped liberate the Philippines from the Japanese.

“The enemy cut the phone lines, and headquarters needed a runner, so they picked me as runner because I was small and fast,” he recalled. “They didn’t shoot at me because they must have thought I was one of their own.”

Kern L. Chew, 93, a Purple Heart winner from the pear orchards of Courtland, was only one of six survivors in one of the battles for Okinawa. Wounded several times, the rifleman continued to fight until an enemy mortar shell finally forced him off the battle field.

“I’ve traveled all over the world and you can’t beat the United States,” he said. “If Uncle Sam said, ‘I need you out there, Mr. Chew,’ I’ll serve now!”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini

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