Murray Lee's DNA
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June 22, 2009 – Murray Lee is a World War II veteran. He enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1945 after graduating from high school in Virginia. He served on the SS Thomas Sumter, a Liberty ship, as an able-bodied seamen. Since retiring to San Diego in 1983 he became a board member for the Chinese Historical Society which later became the San Diego Chinese Historical Society and Museum. Lee serves as the curator for the museum. In 1996 he began collecting the stories of San Diego County Chinese-American veterans from World War I through the first Gulf War. Since then, Lee has registered more than 50 veterans, most of whom served during World War II.
ABE SHRAGGE (Curator, Veteran's Museum and Memorial Center): Part of your life here has been as the curator of the Chinese-American museum in San Diego, and you’ve been doing an oral history project with Chinese-American veterans of WWII and I wanted to ask you a little bit about that. MURRAY LEE (Curator, Chinese Heritage Museum): Most of the Chinese young men in those days lived down in Chinatown, because it was the only place the Chinese could live along with the Japanese and the Filipinos. You had to be south of Market like, and Market to J, and 2nd to 6th street. Those 8 blocks. SHRAGGE: Tell us a little bit about some of the fellows that we see in this picture. LEE: Well this picture was taken in 1942 out at Fort Rosecrans. That was the area I guess that they welcomed them into the Army Air Corps - because they all were volunteers to join the Army Air Corps. They never allow Chinese to be pilots, with a few exceptions. And they all joined and they were all friends. That’s Henry Quinn on the left there, who is grandson of Ah Quinn – who is the mayor of Chinatown in the late 1800s. Next to him is James Hom. That’s the older brother of Tom Hom, who was in City Council here. And George Lee, then Norman Leong, Carl Quoi – and he has a twin brother here, Earl Quoi – and Miles Hom. But they all went in to the Army Air Corps, and a lot of them ended up in the China-Burma-India theatre, some of them ended up in Europe. SHRAGGE: One in particular, who ended up in Europe, is Victor Schoon. He has a terrific story that I hope you could tell. LEE: He wasn’t one of those young men. And Victor, the interesting thing is how he got his name. The immigration officers usually were confused about Chinese names, because Chinese used their surname first and their other names second and third. So they would always take the third name and say you’re ‘Mr. so-and-so.’ And that’s how Ah Quinn got the name Quinn – because he’s really a Tom or a Hom. But anyway, the immigration officer evidently was of German ancestry and so he didn’t understand the Chinese names so he just gave him a German name “Schoon.” This turned out to be an advantage, because when he applied for officer training they thought he was German, so he was trained to be a pilot to fly B-17s. And of course no Chinese before had ever been allowed to be a pilot. SHRAGGE: Victor Schoon had a very distinguished career. He flew 50 missions in his B-17 over Germany. LEE: Yeah, this was out of Italy, and 50 missions - and after completing the 50 missions every one of his crewmembers was given a medal. SHRAGGE: The Distinguished Flying Cross? LEE: Right. Except he did not receive it. SHRAGGE: And did he ever earn recognition for that later in his life? LEE: No. And a number of us have told him, you really ought to go to VA and appeal that, because I’m sure today that they would rectify that. He says, well, it’s too late now and it’s not worth it, the effort. SHRAGGE: In your project, how many Chinese-American WWII veterans have you found in San Diego? LEE: Oh, I think I’ve gotten about 50-some that I’ve registered. SHRAGGE: It’s a great project, and it’s one that tells us a lot about our heritage, about the nature of life in the city, the nature of life in WWII, and I want to thank you very much for the work that you’ve done. LEE: You’re welcome.