Boston Herald

America’s melting pot filled with veterans’ stories

- Ray Flynn Ray Flynn is a former mayor of Boston and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

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.”

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