Chinese-American vet recognized for WWII service

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Family and friends and even Cranston Mayor Allan Fung turned out Friday when Chinese-American veteran Philip Lee was honored for his service during World War II. Lee, the former owner of the Islander Restaurant on West Shore Road, is a Warwick resident. He is 97 years old.

Meeting at his Cranston office, Senator Jack Reed awarded Lee with the Army Good Conduct Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, the World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp, Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar, and the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII. He will also receive the Congressional Gold Medal, as will be awarded to all Chinese Americans fighting in WWII.

Lee served most of his time in France, being deployed in 1944 until the end of fighting in the European war zone.

Among those present to honor Lee, who wore a light summer suit, were his wife, daughter, grandson and great-granddaughter, among other family members and friends. James Morris summed up his grandfather as a hardworking individual who focuses his time on family.

After awarding Lee his numerous medals, Reed asked if he wanted to say any words. Lee replied shortly, “Thank you. It is my honor and privilege to serve in the United States Army.”

Morris said Lee never really discussed his time in World War II with his children or friends, but he opened up with him when he accompanied Lee on Rhode Island Fire Chiefs Honor Flight to Washington and the World War II Memorial just a few years ago.

The family appreciated that Lee was being honored for his service but was not expecting it to happen in his lifetime. Morris became emotional as he was speaking about the recognition because it is coming at such a late stage in his grandfather’s life, and he wishes it had come earlier.

When asked about the reason as to why it has taken so many years after the war to honor Lee and other Chinese-American veterans with a Congressional medal, Reed talked about the atmosphere in the U.S. after the war ended, a time when people were focused on coming back home to their families and not on awards or what they had done during the war. Reed described Chinese-American veterans as very humble about their service to the United States, not expecting praise and recognition.

Reed acknowledged that it had taken a long time to formally recognize Chinese-American service in World War II but it is because he believes this period of time, the last decade or so, encompassing when the WWII Memorial was built, is appropriate for that recognition for all members who served during the war. It is not a matter of ethnicity more than it is appropriate timing, as the near unanimous vote enacting legislation to strike a congressional gold medal in recognition of the 20,000 Chinese-American veterans who served the U.S. during WWII, he said. 

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