America’s melting pot filled with veterans’ stories
While serving as U.S ambassador to the Vatican for almost five years, I had the opportunity to visit many historic World War II battlegrounds and U.S. military cemeteries throughout the world.
From North Africa to Normandy and of course Arlington National Cemetery and our Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, I would always meet men and women who served alongside these heroes now laid to rest, or a family member who often traveled long distances to pay their respects to a fallen relative. On one occasion with President Bill Clinton and another with war hero and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, I visited various sites in Europe commemorating the end of WWII — every visit was moving and educational.
Standing next to Sen. Dole, I heard veterans come up to him with amazing stories of their fallen comrades in arms and the battles themselves. The tales would continue into the night at a local veterans post where the storytellers were proud to share their experiences. Nothing in my life experiences could compare to these firsthand accounts of the courage and tragedy that these veterans experienced.
Although my uncle Bill Kirby saw considerable combat action serving in the U.S. Navy near the end of World War II, during the Korean War and even the beginning of the Vietnam War, he would rarely talk about it, just as my two decorated combat veteran brothers of the Korean and Vietnam wars only talked about their experiences when they were having a couple of beers with their “combat buddies” who they worked with in the Police or Boston Fire departments. My military experiences came nowhere close to theirs, so I did a lot of listening.
But many stories of military heroism came to life last weekend at the New England Chinese American World War II Congressional Gold Medal Awards ceremony at Faneuil Hall. The Gold Medal is the highest award bestowed by the United States Congress and the first recipient was Gen. George Washington. California Rep. Mark Takano, who is House Chairman of Veterans Affairs, and Rep. Stephen Lynch, along with Gov. Charlie Baker, Acting Mayor Kim Janey and Boston City Councillor Ed Flynn addressed the packed crowd and presented the medals and special awards.
Over 20,000 Chinese Americans, despite facing discrimination in the U.S. at the time, bravely and proudly served our country in the military during World War II. First Chinese American Two-star Gen. William S. Chen pointed out that those who served our country during World War II opened up opportunities for all Chinese Americans to be part of mainstream America.
My son Eddie who served 25 years on active duty and in the U.S. Navy Reserves said to me on the way home from this historic ceremony, “I’m so proud that Boston’s Chinese American community played such an important leadership role in making the dream of recognizing the bravery, courage and patriotism of our Chinese American men and women become a reality. As someone who serves the people of the Chinatown district, I see it every day. They love what America stands for as much as any ethnic group. I saw it in the Navy.”