Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
They didn’t ask for recognition. But they earned it.
They didn’t ask to go to war. Most volunteered.
Some gave their lives. Those who came home raised families, started businesses and built a modern Hawai‘i. Congress earlier honored Japanese American and Filipino American World War II veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal. On Sunday, Feb. 6, in the Year of the Tiger and more than 80 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai‘i Chinese American World War II veterans and their families finally received their due. Like the ceremonies for the Nisei and Filipino veterans, there were tears, proud smiles and lots of family picture-taking.
Chinese American World War II heroes from Hawai‘i include Capt. Francis Wai, who posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in Leyte in the Philippines and Admiral Gordon Chung-Hoon, commander of the USS Sigsbee, awarded the Navy Cross for keeping his ship in the fight after a kamikaze attack near Okinawa. Learn their stories at the Chinese American World War II Recognition Project for Hawai‘i veterans website at caww2hawaii.org.
For Japanese Americans, the actions of a Hawai‘i Chinese American veteran are not as known and he and his family received an overdue thanks from the Hawai‘i Japanese-American community on Feb. 6. Hung Wai Ching, the businessman and community leader who helped start Aloha Airlines, protected the Japanese community in Hawai‘i and helped create and support the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Ching grew up in Nu‘uanu and went to McKinley High School with Japanese friends and neighbors and was convinced of their loyalty. According to Nisei veteran Ted Tsukiyama, Ching was an executive with the YMCA when he was asked to be a bridge between the military government and civilians. Ching, along with community leaders like Charles Hemenway, Charles Loomis and Shigeo Yoshida, told the FBI and military officials that Hawai‘i’s Japanese Americans were not a threat.
“They convinced the military authorities not to do mass arrests and mass incarceration. That did not happen here in Hawai‘i because of people like Hung Wai Ching,” said Barbara Tanabe, the daughter of a Nisei veteran. “Instead of arresting them, they (military authorities) mobilized them.”
When Japanese American ROTC students at the University of Hawai‘i were discharged because of their race, Ching helped persuade them to form a non-combat labor battalion – what became known as the Varsity Victory Volunteers. Ching made sure visiting Pentagon officials saw their loyalty and when the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was formed, the VVV disbanded to enlist. Ching continued to support the 442nd and their families during and after the war, even meeting with President Roosevelt.
In her presentation speech, Tanabe said, “We thank the Chinese Americans and all those after Pearl Harbor who stood by the side of their Japanese neighbors and made it possible for Japanese to show that we are Americans too. Thank you from the bottom of my heart from the Japanese American veterans, their families and the community.”
In recognition of his efforts, Ching’s granddaughter, Ashley Wang, accepted both the Nisei Veterans and the Chinese American World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medals from former Gov. George Ariyoshi, a member of the Military Intelligence Service.
You can watch the Congressional Gold Medal ceremonies on the AARP Hawai‘i Facebook page. There are two videos with opening ceremonies and a video of the presentations. The presentation to Ching’s family is near the end of the presentation video at about 2:02:30.
Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.