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San Diego Part Of Effort To Honor Chinese American WWII Veterans

A Chinese-American soldier is pictured in this undated photo at the San Diego...

Credit: San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

Above: A Chinese-American soldier is pictured in this undated photo at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

An effort is underway to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Chinese Americans who served in World War II.

When World War II began, Chinese were not allowed to own property outside of a few blocks in downtown San Diego. Immigrants faced deportation under the Chinese Exclusion Act. Even so, thousands of Chinese-Americans either enlisted or were drafted.

“During the exclusion law, the Chinese in San Diego could not live above Market Street,” said Murray Lee, 91, a historian with the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

The former curator enlisted in the Merchant Marine in 1945, at the tail end of the war. He’s tracked other Chinese Americans from San Diego who were involved in World War II.

The museum is now part of a national effort by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance to award World War II veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal. In the last few years, Congress has recognized Native American code talkers, Filipino-Americans and other groups who fought.

The Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigration, wasn’t repealed until 1943 when China entered the war on behalf of the Allies. Laws limiting property ownership lasted well beyond the war. For those things, Lee said recognition is overdue.

“For all the years they were discriminated against. They had very few rights,” Lee said.

Clearly, time is not on their side. Fellow World War II veteran Ed Wong just turned 100, he said.

“Most of the rest aren't around anymore,” Lee said.

The effort started in 2016. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is the senate sponsor for the current bill. According to her office, they have 39 co-sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans.

Reported by Katie Schoolov

Advocates want to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Chinese American veterans of World War II who fought aggression overseas while facing discrimination at home.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story showed a photo of a WWII Navajo veteran. It has since been updated to correctly show a photo of a WWII Chinese-American soldier.


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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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