Wellington Yee Kwan, a World War II veteran and resident of the Veterans Home of California-West Los Angeles, received the Congressional Gold Medal on April 18 during a private ceremony at the Home.
Kwan, who is 98, can be counted among the 20,000 Chinese American World War II veterans eligible to receive the medal for their service to their country.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, Kwan was honored in a presentation that was recorded to confirm his receipt of the medal. The recording will be included in a virtual ceremony scheduled for Memorial Day (May 31, 2021), honoring Kwan and other living Chinese American World War II veterans residing in Southern California.
Kwan enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1943. He served in the Signal Corps in China and rose through the ranks to staff sergeant. When the war ended, he went on to Engineering Officer Candidate School and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, joining the 65th Combat Engineer Division in Japan.
Kwan and his four brothers all served — ranging from World War II, to the Korean War, to the Vietnam War. He left the Army in October 1947, and followed brothers David and Hiram into law practices.
The recognition comes far too late for most. President Trump signed the legislation for the medal into law in December 2018. Surviving veterans must register to receive the medals. Family members of those who are deceased can do the same for posthumous recognition.
About 78,000 people of Chinese ancestry lived among the U.S. mainland’s population in 1940, according to the U.S. Census of that year. About 29,000 more lived in Hawaii, which did not become a state until April 1959. By the time Japan formally surrendered to end World War II in September 1945, all branches of the U.S. military combined included more than 13,000 Chinese Americans in active duty, part of the estimated 20,000 who served during the course of the war. They served loyally and honorably a nation that had otherwise treated them horribly and violently, from the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 until its repeal in 1943.
As many as 8,000 of those 20,000 veterans were Californians, Ed Gor of the nonprofit Chinese American World War II Veterans Recognition Project told CalVet Connect in May 2020.
The campaign to honor them began in earnest in 1998 with the publication of the book “Duty and Honor: A Tribute to Chinese American World War II Veterans of Southern California.” It is co-authored by Marjorie Lee and Suellen Cheng and produced by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.
The Chinese American World War II Veterans Recognition Project became, and remains, the point of registration for the Congressional Gold Medal for these veterans and their families. About 3,000 veterans have received approval thus far, Gor said.
Organizers hoped a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in January 2019 would generate publicity and thus, more applications for the award. But the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic forced postponement or cancellations of other planned events. The campaign continues, however, and the reopening of CalVet’s West Los Angeles home enabled Kwan to receive his medal.
To register and keep up to date on award presentation schedules, visit CAWW2.org.