Lewis W. Yee

Lewis W. Yee

A Fort Bend County resident was one of four veterans recently presented with the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal for their role as Chinese-American service members during World War II.

Lewis Yee, 99, of Sugar Land, was honored earlier this month as part of a group of Chinese-American service members who were recognized as unsung heroes. Attendees at the event included former U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, who represented Fort Bend County while in office, and said he thought it was an important event to attend.

“May God bless the Chinese-American heroes of World War II,” Olson wrote.

Family members for Yee did not respond to a request for comment as of Monday afternoon.

"I am really honored to serve my great country," recipient Lewis W. Yee said in a separate interview. But Yee’s honor was something years in the making. Lawmakers in late 2018 voted to approve the Congressional Gold Medal to Chinese-American veterans in World War II, Olson said.

The honor is Congress’ highest award and has previously been given to individuals such as Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. and groups such as members of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders and the Native American code talkers, among others.

The coronavirus pandemic and the time it took designing the medal delayed the veterans in the Houston area being honored for it.

Yee grew up in the Houston area, the child of Chinese immigrants, Olson said. Yee would later go on to serve in the First American Volunteer Group of the Republic of China’s air force – a group better known as the Flying Tigers, according to Olson.

The Flying Tigers were a group of pilots, recruited under then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s authority, that were marked with Chinese colors but flew under American control. They joined the military fray before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, according to Olson.

The group began to arrive in China in April 1941, and saw combat just 12 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Upon his return home from the war, Yee wanted his family to join him from China, Olson said. But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited it. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first piece of legislation that explicitly prohibited a specific group from immigrating to the United States.

Yee helped a friend draft a petition to repeal it after the war – the petition eventually becoming the basis for the Magnuson Act, a full repeal of the act on Dec. 17, 1943, Olson said. Some 20,000 Chinese Americans or immigrants fought for the U.S. during World War II, many of whom were not citizens because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, according to a Houston Chronicle article. Fewer than 300 of those veterans are still alive, according to the article.

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