SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The U.S. Congress bestowed its highest honor to 500 Chinese Americans, both living and dead, in San Francisco this Fourth of July weekend to honor their service to the United States during World War II despite being relegated to second class status.
Congress did not rescind the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law in the United States banning the immigration of anyone solely because of their race, until the start of WWII. From 1943 to 1965, the immigration of Chinese would be limited to 105 per year under the Magnuson Act. Despite that, 20,000 Chinese Americans, 1 out of 5 Chinese Americans in the country at the time, enlisted to serve in the U.S. military during WWII.
I proudly accepted the Congressional Gold Medal for my late father, Leonard Yip, who served in the U.S. Army as a member of the TC5 26th Signal Center Team, CP Crowder, MO. My dad, together with members of his unit, relayed critical information to the front line troops about enemy formations and positions, information that was critical for what ultimately would be a victory for U.S. troops and its Allies over Nazi Germany, the empire of Japan and fascist Italy.
While excited about being able to accept this award, it really didn't begin to hit me until the days leading up to the ceremony.
A co-worker, Kate Eby, asked me via Slack, a professional messaging app, what I was doing on the holiday. I told her I would be accepting the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously on behalf of my dad.
"Wow. That's a big deal. Congratulations," she said.
Her response frankly surprised me. I didn't think anyone outside my family or the Asian American community would care.
Retired General Stephen Tom, U.S. Army, explained the significance of the medal. One copy, he said, is made of solid gold, and would be put on permanent display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Families would receive replicas made of solid bronze from the U.S. Mint.
The two-sided coin includes images of seven Chinese American veterans, six men and one woman. Each figure represents a branch of the military, including the Army Nurse Corps.
On the other side is an image of a Sherman Tank representing land. An outline of a P40 Warhawk flown by the Flying Tigers in Kumming, China represented air. Finally, the Battleship Missouri where the Empire of Japan surrendered to U.S. forces, represented the sea.
One by one, people were called up to accept their medals. Among them was a spouse of a veteran as well as several brothers who were veterans. It's too bad none of the actual veterans could be present, most likely because they had already passed or were too far or too frail to attend.
As Retired Colonel Baldwin Au presented the medal to me for my father, I thought of the significance of getting this award on the Fourth of July. The recognition of my father and others as true Americans is especially significant given the increase in anti-Asian hate we've seen in the last 18 months.
We wrapped up the ceremony by singing America the Beautiful. A rush of pride, American pride, shot through my veins. Kate was right. This really was a big deal.