LOS ANGELES (FOX 11) - The design process has started for a Congressional Gold Medal to honor the service of Chinese American Veterans of World War II.
During the war, about 20 thousand served. Today, there are maybe a dozen alive in the Los Angeles area, perhaps a few hundred still alive nationally.
In honor of Memorial day and Asian Pacific Heritage Month, Representative Gil Cisneros honored a handful of Chinese American vets who were able to attend a ceremony in Hacienda Heights.
95-year-old Hiram Kwan was there to be honored for his service and to accept the honor for his brothers, David and Wellington.
"He was the one that serviced the longest during World War II."
Hiram was an 18-year-old, living in Los Angeles when he enlisted, then served in the Army Air Corps.
He was a combat navigator, flying the B-17 and B-24. "You're flying 45 thousand feet up and on oxygen. It was very, very difficult," Hiram said.
Hiram and his brother enlisted at a time when Chinese immigrants seeking citizenship and the native born faced institutional discrimination.
"I used to say, blacks and Mexicans were second class citizens and the Chinese Americans were the third class citizens."
Representatives Mark Takano and Judy Chu joined Cisneros to hand out folded American flags and framed certificates.
"Even though, because of who they were, they weren't fully, fully, 100% American. But they fought and bled as Americans," said Takano.
Congresswoman Chu pointed out, she might not be here, if not for her father's service during WWII. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, that limited immigrants from China, there were few Chinese in the U.S. for servicemen to marry.
"They had a G.I. War Brides Act which allowed veterans to marry somebody abroad and bring them home. And, because of that, I was born."
Chu, Cisneros and Takano along with the rest of the House and Senate voted to recognize Chinese-American WWII vets with a Congressional Gold Medal. It became law with the President's signature in December 2018.
Getting support for the Chinese-American vets in Washington was easy; harder was finding support among the vets themselves. Rick Eng, of the Chinese American Citizens League said, "I've spoken to a lot of veterans, and they say, ‘Oh, we don't deserve this honor. The people who do are the ones that never came back home.'"
Hiram echoes that sentiment and said, the U.S. paid for his service by paying for his education and law school. But he agrees, "It's is a very high honor."
Once the final design of the Gold Medal is chosen and forged, they could be awarded to the vets this Fall.