Groups want SF Marine to receive Medal of Honor

March 14, 2011 7:11:28 PM PDT
A campaign is underway to award the nation's highest medal for valor to a Marine with Bay Area roots. The effort is being made because of his bravery in freeing thousands of Marines during a hard-fought battle in the Korean War.

Born in San Francisco, 85- year old Kurt Chew-een Lee is being hailed an American hero, recognition a group of Marines and many others say is long overdue.

"He's pretty much avoided the limelight for 60 years, and if we had not invited him to come to San Francisco so that we can honor him in a variety of venues, most would not have known him," Chinese American Heroes founder Roger Dong said. "It would have been a great tragedy."

Sixty years ago, then 2nd Lt. Lee was sent to South Korea to help repel a surge of Chinese troops that had joined with North Korea. Lee was the first Chinese-American regular Marine officer.

At the battle for Chosin Reservoir, one unit had endured heavy fire for four days and five nights.

"We would send one battalion across almost impassible mountainous terrain behind the lines towards this beleaguered unit called Fox Company," Lee said.

Lee led that battalion. Conditions were extreme. The temperature plunged to 38 degrees below zero.

Former congressman, fellow marine and Navy Cross recipient Pete McCloskey was there.

"He led the battalion through the snow; there were thousands of Chinese on either side, and they got through the hills and over the hills and relieved Fox Company and saved Toktong Pass, which was a crucial pass that allowed the whole division to get out," McCloskey said.

Lee's leadership saved 8,000 men from death or capture. He also left little doubt about his bravery. Lee led his men wearing a bright cloth meant to help air support units distinguish between his men and the enemy.

"I wore one of those red panels around my neck; my men could see me, the enemy could see me, too," Lee said.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt recalled a conversation with Lee's commander at Chosin Reservoir, who gave Lee the ultimate accolade.

"That says a lot for Gen. Ray Davis, who won the Navy Cross in World War II, got the Medal of Honor for that particular operation at the Chosin Reservoir, to call one of his lieutenants the bravest Marine he ever knew," Myatt said.

The American Legion Cathay Post, which invited Lee home for a series of recognition events, is now advocating he receive one more medal, besides the Silver Star and the Navy Cross.

"We feel that the action that he performed under extreme stress, deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor," Nelson Lum said.


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