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Chinese-Americans in World War II

When the United States entered World War II, about 29,000 persons of Chinese ancestry were living in Hawaii and another 78,000 on the mainland. By war's end, over 13,000 were serving in all branches of the Army Ground Forces and Army Air Forces.

About one quarter of all Chinese-American soldiers served with the Army Air Forces. In 1943 the Army Air Forces organized some support units for the China-Burma-India theater, including the 14th Air Service Group, composed predominantly of Chinese-American personnel. Other Chinese-Americans trained as pilots and aircrew and fought in Europe and the Pacific. However, most were assigned to regular ground units.

An estimated 40 percent of Chinese-American soldiers were not native-born citizens. After Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, many took advantage of their military service to become naturalized.

One Chinese-American received the Distinguished Service Cross, Capt. Francis B. Wai. He was born in Hawaii, where his father was Chinese and his mother Native Hawaiian. After graduating from the Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at Los Angeles, Wai enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard and was called to active duty in 1940. He earned his commission through officers candidate school in 1941 and was assigned to the 34th Infantry, part of the 24th Infantry Division. On October 20, 1944, his unit landed at Leyte in the Philippines. He was killed in action while leading soldiers off the beach against accurate and concentrated enemy fire.

For further information, see the following:

  • Lim, Christina M., and Sheldon H. Lim. In the Shadow of the Tiger: The 407th Air Service Squadron, Fourteenth Air Force, World War II. Privately published, 1993.
  • Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston, 1989.
  • Wong, Scott K. "War Comes to Chinatown: Social Transformation and the Chinese of California." The Way We Really Were: The Golden State in the Second Great War. Ed. by Roger W. Lotchin. Urbana, Ill., 2000. Pp. 164-86.

Prepared 16 May 2000
by James C. McNaughton
Command Historian
Defense Language Institute
Foreign Language Center, Presidio of Monterey

This award was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.