Above: Austin Wah, a Chinese American solider who served in World War II (Image via NBC).
Many Chinese Americans were involved in the war effort during World War II. Some joined because they believed in the values of the U.S. and wanted to fight for the Nazis, while others joined for the social mobility that the military allowed, while some joined for a mix of both reasons.
By the end of World War II, over 13,000 Chinese people were serving in all branches of the Army Ground Forces and Army Air Forces. About 25% of Chinese-American soldiers serve with the Army Air Forces. For example, the 14th Air Service Group — also known as the flying tigers — was composed predominantly of Chinese-American personnel. Other Chinese-Americans were trained as pilots and aircrew, though most were assigned as regular ground units. Many would face discrimination and prejudice while serving in the army, due to the racist attitudes that persisted despite China’s being an ally in the war.
40% of Chinese-American soldiers were not native-born citizens while they were serving in the military. However, after Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, many were able to take advantage of their military service to become naturalized.
Though many Chinese-Americans served in World War II, their achievements would go unrecognized for almost 75 years. Finally, in 2020, thousands of Chinese American World War II veterans were honored with a Congressional Gold Medal. As Rep. Judy Chu described, “What was extraordinary for these 20,000 Chinese American veterans was the choice they made in the face of gross prejudice despite facing racial discrimination at home, including the hateful Chinese Exclusion Act that remained in place until 1943.”
Today, many community members are working on preserving the history of these veterans. Check out the Chinse American WWII Veterans Recognition Project website to learn more about these efforts.