Last week, twenty or so veterans, Chinese-Americans who served their country during War World II, walked slowly down a quiet street in New York City’s Chinatown. Family and friends, about two for every one vet, accompanied them to Kimlau Square. Once there, a TV crew shot footage of a wreath-laying ceremony that paid respect to their fallen comrades.
These men, some as young as 14 when they answered the call to duty in 1943, were once part of the 407th Air Service Group, the 555th Air Service Group, the 987th Signal Company and other all Chinese-American units. These outfits supported the “Flying Tigers,” U.S. pilots who flew fighter missions in China and Indochina where they gained air superiority over the invading Japanese forces.
Coming from towns and cities across the country, including Chinatowns both large and small, these support squadrons traveled half way around the world to serve at bases throughout China. They repaired aircraft, handled cargo, loaded munitions, stored and issued supplies, established communications, drove trucks, and performed, (as so many job descriptions read in the military), “other duties as required.” They also made contact with Chinese nationals, which resulted in valuable intelligence for the United States.
Before attending their re-union (they've met off and on since the mid-fifties) in New York last week, I knew next to nothing about these World War II heroes. In 1946, many of these vets formed the 407th Air Service Squadron Veterans Association, which became the largest to stay together after war’s end. The better half’s father, Jerry Chew, was among them.
We arrived on Tuesday and spent three full days and evenings with them. The highlights for us included a visit to the Intrepid Air and Sea Museum, honoring the vets at the BR Kimlau American Legion in Chinatown, a visit to the Museum of Chinese in America where several of the veterans spoke before an audience of students and adults, and a bus tour of Manhattan. The reunion coincided with the convening of the United Nations General Assembly that created traffic delays, but also served as a reminder that some of the world is still in the grip of tyrants.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to Christina Lim for providing the kind of leadership that is needed to make reunions run smoothly. She is co-author, along with her brother Sheldon Lim, of “In the Shadow of the Tiger,” a fantastic book about the 407th as well as co-editor of the reunion journal. A salute also to Mack Pong for being the guiding light for the vets' reunions all these years.
Thanks, too, to these former servicemen and their families who shared their time and stories with me and my wife. She now knows more about her father’s service during the war, and we both have come to a greater appreciation of the sacrifices these men made more than 60 years ago. A more friendly group of folks I have not met.
This Veterans Day, and every day, let’s continue to remember their unique contributions to our nation’s freedoms and democracy.