He fought for the fu­ture

Bing Wong, a Chi­nese-Cana­dian vet­eran of World War II, re­flects on lessons learned from his mil­i­tary ser­vice and his busi­ness ca­reer

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By HATTY LIU in Van­cou­ver for China Daily

When Chi­nese-Cana­dian vet­eran Bing C. Wong thinks back to his days in World War II, his most vivid mem­o­ries are of the times he stood at the shoot­ing range dur­ing train­ing, won­der­ing what would hap­pen when the real shoot­ing started.

“The thing I re­mem­ber most is say­ing to my­self, ‘I hope I won’t be scared,’ ” he told China Daily. “That thought re­ally both­ered me. I told my­self, ‘I hope I can go out there and fight, and I won’t be like a cow­ard.’ ”

Born in Van­cou­ver in 1924 and raised on an is­land off the coast of Bri­tish Columbia, Wong was 18 years old when he joined the Cana­dian Army. He is one of the youngest Cana­dian vet­er­ans of the war. In a photo of him taken dur­ing guerilla train­ing in Saskatchewan in cen­tral Canada, he is stand­ing in uni­form next to two older sol­diers with a sunny, ex­u­ber­ant smile.

Wong wore a badge on his uni­form for his ex­cel­lence as a ri­fle marks­man. In 1945, he be­came one of around 80,000 Cana­di­ans who vol­un­teered to par­tic­i­pate in the at­tack of the Ja­panese Home Is­lands, which was sup­posed to take place in Novem­ber.

He was also scared of heights, Wong said, and didn’t know how the com­man­ders would get him out of the air­plane once he started para­chute-train­ing in the United States. He wor­ried that he would fear the shoot­ing and wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to war, but in the end there was one thing that gave him the nec­es­sary courage.

“It was the over­whelm­ing feel­ing for most of the Chi­nese at the time,” he said. “No­body wanted to go out there and get killed, but we had to go to show ev­ery­body that the Chi­nese weren’t cow­ards.”

Wong said that when he was a child, his fa­ther moved the fam­ily to Alert Bay, BC. The fish­ing vil­lage on a small is­land off the north­east­ern coast of Van­cou­ver Is­land was the tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory of the Namgis First Na­tion.

“Some­body my fa­ther knew went there for work, and he said the First Na­tions were so good to the Chi­nese, so my fa­ther moved the whole fam­ily there,” Wong said. “He said he wanted to raise the chil­dren in an at­mos­phere where there was no dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

The Wongs were one of three Chi­nese fam­i­lies in Alert Bay, who made up a “Lit­tle Chi­na­town”, Wong said.

They were friendly with the First Na­tions com­mu­nity, who were cus­tomers at Wong’s fa­ther’s gen­eral store. They also got along with the fam­i­lies of Ja­panese fish­er­men who lived in the area un­til they were re­moved to the in­tern­ment camps un­der the War Mea­sures Act in 1942. Grow­ing up, Wong played “Cowboys and In­di­ans” with the in­dige­nous chil­dren.

“I played the In­dian, all the time — they wanted to be the cowboys,” he said with a laugh.

Wong went to the main­land to at­tend high school at Van­cou­ver Tech­ni­cal School, where he trained as an air cadet. His brother, Frank, was one of the few Chi­nese in BC ac­cepted into the army near the start of the war and par­tic­i­pated in the D-Day land­ing at Juno Beach.

Hav­ing orig­i­nally wanted to be a pi­lot or nav­i­ga­tor in the Air Force, Bing Wong en­listed shortly be­fore the Chi­nese were called up un­der the Na­tional Re­sources Mo­bi­liza­tion Act be­cause he heard that those who joined early could pick a branch of the mil­i­tary to serve in.

“Back then, ev­ery­one wanted to fly air­planes,” he re­called. “But only the top re­cruits got to do that. So then, I wanted to join the Armoured Corps, but it turns out once you joined [the mil­i­tary] they got to de­cide where to put you, and they needed in­fantry.”

Like many other Chi­nese in the Cana­dian Army, Wong was soon re­cruited to con­duct spe­cial oper­a­tions be­hind en­emy lines in Ja­panese-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries in Asia.

“I went in for the in­ter­view with the cap­tain, and he told me, ‘Your Chi­nese is lousy,’ ” he chuck­led. “A lot of the Cana­dian-born Chi­nese were like that: I spoke Can­tonese at home with my mother, but I didn’t re­ally read or write it, and I went to the reg­u­lar [English] schools.”

Nonethe­less, Wong was as­signed to a three-per­son team with Dan Chan and Daniel Wong (no re­la­tion). They were ex­pected to get parachuted to­gether on their mis­sions.

Wong was the team mem­ber re­spon­si­ble for han­dling the am­mu­ni­tion, guns and ex­plo­sives, which he would even­tu­ally be train­ing lo­cal gueril­las in Asia how to use. Daniel Wong learned to op­er­ate the ra­dio and com­mu­ni­cate in code.

Chan, who could read and write Chi­nese, was sent to take a six-month Ja­panese lan­guage course in or­der to train as a lan­guage spe­cial­ist.

It was be­cause they had to wait for Chan to fin­ish his course that the three were still in Canada in May 1945, when most of the other Chi­nese in the spe­cial oper­a­tions and other parts of the mil­i­tary had gone over­seas.

As the war in Europe drew to the close, an or­der came call­ing for vol­un­teers to join the Cana­dian Army Pa­cific Force (CAPF), the ex­pe­di­tionary unit that would be sent to par­tic­i­pate in the at­tack of Ja­pan.

The Amer­i­cans pre­dicted that there would be a mil­lion ca­su­al­ties in the at­tack. Mar­ried men, like Chan, were told not to vol­un­teer. With so many of the oth­ers hav­ing gone over­seas, Bing Wong and Daniel Wong be­came two of the only Chi­nese Cana­di­ans they know to have joined the CAPF.

“They called us the ‘Tiger Force,’ ” Bing Wong said. “We were go­ing to train un­der the Amer­i­cans and use all Amer­i­can equip­ment but wear the Cana­dian uni­form.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port com­piled by the Cana­dian Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence, dis­cus­sions as to how Canada might play a part in the war against Ja­pan had started by early 1944. The doc­u­ments cited in the re­port in­di­cate that by Septem­ber of that year, the Cana­dian Cab­i­net had con­cluded that once the war in Europe ended, Cana­dian forces should par­tic­i­pate in the war against Ja­pan di­rectly in the North and Cen­tral Pa­cific rather than South­east Asia and take part in the fi­nal at­tack of the Ja­panese home­land.

That would al­low Canada to base its forces in Western Canada in close co­op­er­a­tion with the US, join­ing the Bri­tish forces in the South­west Pa­cific. The North and Cen­tral Pa­cific were strate­gi­cally im­por­tant to Canada as a Pa­cific-fac­ing na­tion with con­nec­tions to the United States.

By the end of 1944, it was de­cided that Canada’s con­tri­bu­tion, the CAPF, would con­sist of an in­fantry di­vi­sion pos­si­bly re­in­forced with ar­mour, serve as a fol­low-up unit to the main op­er­a­tion in the North Pa­cific theatre, use US Army equip­ment, be or­ga­nized along the lines of a US corps and train in the US un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the US Army Ground Forces.

“We were in an un­happy po­si­tion,” Wong re­called. “We were what they called ‘re­place­ments’ for the best troops that would be sent first, so we didn’t know who we would be [go­ing in with.”

“I trained to be a ma­chine gun­ner, so say if the ma­chine gun­ner gets killed, then I’d take over.”

De­spite this, Wong thought he would have pre­ferred fight­ing in the at­tack “with the whole group, in­stead of as a guerilla, where you’re all on your own and on the run from the Ja­panese all the time”, he said.

“Af­ter­wards we found out it was just as dan­ger­ous,” Wong said.

Wong is mod­est about his de­ci­sion to vol­un­teer. He said that as a Chi­nese Cana­dian, the de­ci­sion to join the at­tack and join any part of the mil­i­tary “wasn’t about be­ing brave,” but just know­ing there were a lot of things worth fight­ing for.

“When they called for vol­un­teers, Danny [Daniel Wong] came to me af­ter and he said, ‘Bing, did you vol­un­teer? Be­ing a Chi­nese, you have to vol­un­teer to fight the Ja­panese,’ ” Wong said. “Most of the Chi­nese at the time, of course, we didn’t want to go to Europe; we wanted to fight [against] Ja­pan for China.”

There were also the strug­gles back home in Canada to con­sider.

“I re­ally didn’t want to vol­un­teer for the Pa­cific Force, but I couldn’t let them think the Chi­nese were cow­ards,” Wong said. “And if we didn’t fight for the coun­try, we would not get the vote, [and] some of the men who had fam­i­lies in China weren’t al­lowed to bring them to Canada.”

When the Ja­panese sur­ren­dered in Au­gust 1945, Wong was half­way through his train­ing with the Amer­i­can com­mand in Nel­son, BC, and was pre­par­ing to travel to the States for fur­ther train­ing.

“We were very lucky,” he said. “We were go­ing to lose a lot of peo­ple.”

As two of the few Chi­ne­seCana­dian sol­diers still in Canada by June 1945, Bing Wong and Daniel Wong also were among the first Chi­nese Cana­di­ans from BC to cast votes in the fed­eral elec­tion.

By that time, the BC Leg­is­la­ture had granted the right to vote to Chi­nese Cana­di­ans cur­rently serv­ing in the war as well as Chi­nese-Cana­dian vet­er­ans from World War I, though Bing Wong’s and Daniel Wong’s bal­lots were cast in Cal­gary dur­ing ad­vanced train­ing for the CAPF.

Apart from the marks­man­ship, Wong con­sid­ers hav­ing played a part in get­ting Chi­ne­seCana­di­ans the right to vote and im­mi­grate na­tion­wide af­ter the war as his “great­est achieve­ment”. How­ever, dis­crim­i­na­tory at­ti­tudes did not end even af­ter Chi­nese Cana­di­ans re­ceived these rights.

Wong had con­sid­ered teach­ing as a ca­reer but de­cided to study ac­count­ing af­ter the war. He had trou­ble find­ing a job in a firm.

“I went to one com­pany, they said, ‘ Mr Wong, I think you’re a bet­ter ac­coun­tant than the Cau­casian em­ploy­ees I have, but the staff won’t take or­ders from a Chi­nese,’” he re­called. “My school­mates who got jobs tried to get me in, but [the firm] would say, ‘No, we don’t want Chi­nese.’”

Wong searched for a job for 18 months un­til a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the Cana­dian Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs helped him come up with a bet­ter plan.

“They did a sur­vey and said, ‘Mr Wong, there are no ac­coun­tants in [Van­cou­ver] Chi­na­town; you’re the only one,’ ” he said. “They said, ‘All those Chi­nese busi­nesses need an ac­coun­tant.’ ”

He was put in touch with an in­jured vet­eran who was also an ac­coun­tant who tu­tored him over the phone since he “didn’t know any­thing about do­ing pay­roll or any­thing about [start­ing] a busi­ness”, Wong said.

“The other Chi­nese also en­cour­aged me and brought their busi­ness to me, since they knew me well. So I looked af­ter maybe 80 per­cent of the busi­nesses in Chi­na­town — I’ve looked af­ter about 200 restau­rants.”

Wong’s firm on Pen­der Street in Van­cou­ver Chi­na­town is still in the fam­ily to­day, op­er­ated by his son. Built on the roots he laid down with the in­dige­nous com­mu­nity all those years back, Wong was elected a few years ago as the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment des­ig­nate for the Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion.

He said he is grate­ful for his ex­pe­ri­ence in the army not only for help­ing him in his ca­reer but for the ed­u­ca­tion it gave him about tol­er­ance and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“I found the army to be very ac­cept­ing. I didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence dis­crim­i­na­tion, and they tried to find me a job af­ter­wards, for six months, and got frus­trated on my be­half when they couldn’t,” he said. “The army was an ex­cep­tional place.”

“When you’re in uni­form, you’re just treated like another soldier,” he said.

Bing Wong

CHI­NESE CANA­DIAN MIL­I­TARY MU­SEUM PRO­VIDED BY

Bing Wong

Bing Wong’s

PRO­VIDED BY CHI­NESE CANA­DIAN MIL­I­TARY MU­SEUM

Bing Wong

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