Memorial Day and Chinese American Veterans

Today, hundreds of Chinese American veterans from the American Legion Lt. B.L. Kimlau Post will march in their decorated uniforms down Mott Street in NYC’s Chinatown. Inspired by her own grandfather — who was a WWII vet — Chinatown native Victoria Moy began a project to interview hundreds of Chinese American vets spanning WWII to Afghanistan. Read more on her candid and powerful family story, and the impact of military service and US immigration and foreign policy on the lives of Chinese Americans here at the HuffPo.

Lt. Lee -- from Uncommon Courage

The documentary Uncommon Courage:Breakout at Chosin is also showing tonight at 8pm EST on the Smithsonian Channel. The film is about Chew-Een Lee, an 84 year old US Marine (also interviewed by Victoria) who is finally getting the recognition he deserves as the first Chinese American Marine commissioned officer (after desegregation of the armed forces), and was awarded the Navy Cross for his service in the Korean War.

Wounded at the battle of Chosin Reservoir after making a one-man raid on a Chinese gun position and leading 500 Marines and UN troops through a death trap in the middle of a blizzard, Lee refused to be evacuated and stole a jeep to get back to the front. While other officers took off all insignia to avoid being targeted by snipers, Lee donned an orange vest so that his men could see him in the snow.

Maj. Kurt Chew-Een Lee, 84

photo by Tracy Woodward/The Washington Post

Lee “totally identified” with the Marines’ reputation for being the first into combat. He enlisted to counter the stereotype of the “meek, obsequious, bland Asian.” In Lee’s words:  “I would have kicked ass and done whatever was necessary.” Talk about Gangsta. Check out a preview of the documentary here. More on Lee at the LA Times and Washington Post.

The stories and leadership of Asian American veterans are rarely included as part of the mainstream narrative of US history. This Memorial Weekend, let’s honor their contributions and keep in mind the barriers and prejudice they overcame in order to serve our country.

Thanks Deeksha!

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