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Congressional Gold Medals presented to Chinese American World War II veterans at Faneuil Hall

US Navy Veteran Tony Moy received a Congressional Gold Medal on Saturday in a ceremony in Boston.
US Navy Veteran Tony Moy received a Congressional Gold Medal on Saturday in a ceremony in Boston.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The three US veterans had never crossed paths, though they shared common stories. They went on active duty during World War II and then lived into their 90s, raising families in the same country that had once written its rejection of people like them into the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

On Saturday, a national effort to atone for the country’s discrimination against Chinese Americans brought the veterans — William Lum, Edward Mon Ye Gee, and Tony T.D. Moy — to Faneuil Hall to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, an honor first awarded to George Washington in 1776 to recognize his defeat of British forces in Boston.

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“I think it’s a great honor to receive the medal,” said Lum, 94, a former Marine. When it was his turn to accept the award, a member of the audience yelled “Semper Fi,” the US Marine Corps motto.

Lum, Gee, and Moy were the only living former soldiers to receive the honor at the ceremony, where officials presented another 115 medals to the survivors of Chinese American veterans who served during World War II. Bronze Star Medals were also awarded posthumously to the children of Thomas Shee Fun Chin, who participated in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, and Way Horn Jee, who fought with the Army’s 24th Infantry Division in the Philippines.

Susan Lin accepted a Congressional Gold Medal for her father Kim Wing Ngai at Saturday's New England Congressional Gold Medal Awards Ceremony.
Susan Lin accepted a Congressional Gold Medal for her father Kim Wing Ngai at Saturday's New England Congressional Gold Medal Awards Ceremony.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The Congressional Gold Medals were awarded under a 2018 law that set up the recognition program to honor Chinese American veterans, or their survivors, for serving during World War II. About a quarter of the country’s 78,000 Chinese Americans served in the armed forces during the conflict, according to the law.

Of those soldiers, about 40 percent weren’t US citizens because of laws that denied citizenship to people with Chinese ancestry, said US Representative Stephen Lynch of South Boston.

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“They put on the uniform of the United States, went into battle to defend the ideals of this country at a time when this country and our government wasn’t living up to those same ideals,” he said. “That is a profound gift that Chinese Americans have given to this country.”

He was joined by Governor Charlie Baker, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, City Councilor Ed Flynn, and US Representative Mark Takano of California, who leads the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Robert Santiago, Boston’s commissioner of veterans services, was master of ceremonies.

Moy, 97, a Navy veteran, was born in Fall River, said his son, Marty, and then returned to China with his mother when he was 4 years old. Moy’s mother died of tuberculosis, and he stayed in her village for a decade until the Japanese invaded China and he then returned to the United States.

Betty Chin (right) accepted the Bronze Star Medal for her father Thomas Shee Fun Chin.
Betty Chin (right) accepted the Bronze Star Medal for her father Thomas Shee Fun Chin.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“He went back to Fall River, not knowing any English at all and he had to assimilate,” said Marty Moy, who lives in Manchester, N.H.

Moy tried to enlist in the Army, his son said, but was rejected.

“They looked at him and they said his equipment weighed more than he did,” Marty Moy said. “So he went right next door to the Navy and he signed up for the Navy.”

Moy attended the ceremony wearing a baseball cap honoring the USS Vicksburg (CL-86), his former vessel.

The ship went to Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and Moy was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese government surrendered to the Allied forces in 1945, his son said.

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Moy vividly recalls scenes from his service, including the Higgins boats that carried Marines to shore.

“He remembers all those details, every single detail of all the battles that he was in,” his son said.

Gee was born in China, and moved to the United States when he was 10 years old, said his son, Marvin Gee, who lives in Westwood.

He joined the US Army, was certified as a high speed radio operator, and was deployed to Yokohama, Japan, according to a biography.

Marvin Gee said the recognition for Chinese American veterans is overdue.

“Even in the face of discrimination, they raised their hands and they volunteered to serve their country,” he said.

Retired Army General William S. Chen helped to present Bronze Star Medals to Chin’s daughter and Jee’s son. Chen, the first Chinese American to become a two-star general, said while the military was determining eligibility for Congressional Gold Medals, it revisited the combat records of Chinese American soldiers in an effort to recognize heroism that had gone unheralded.

People attended the New England Congressional Gold Medal Award Ceremony at Faneuil Hall to Honor WWII Chinese Americans Veterans.
People attended the New England Congressional Gold Medal Award Ceremony at Faneuil Hall to Honor WWII Chinese Americans Veterans. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Chin was born in China and moved to Brookline when he was about 13 years old, said his daughter, Betty Chin, a Wakefield resident.

He joined the Army and served as a sharpshooter in the 42nd Infantry Division in Europe, where he appeared diminutive compared to some of his fellow soldiers, she said.

“He was a small fella carrying all kinds of artillery and military machine guns,” Betty Chin said. “You look at the rest of the guys, and they were big, hulking guys.”

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Chin’s division entered Dachau in April 1945. He never spoke of what he saw, his daughter said.

After the war, Chin worked in laundry and restaurant businesses, and eventually opened his own restaurant in Wellesley. He died in 1992 at age 72.

“He really operated with honor and wanted to provide for his family and have us be a part of American society,” Betty Chin said.

Jee left China when he was 20 years old to join his father, who had a grocery store in Ruleville, Miss., said Melvin Jee, his son.

He was drafted into the Army, his son said, and deployed to the Philippines.

The experience “made him want to be at peace with people,” said Melvin Jee, who lives in Whitinsville.

“Always be kind to people. Always be respectful. Always be at peace with them,” his father used to say.

Jee died in 2011 at age 90. The posthumous honor, his son said, is bittersweet.

“He’s the one who saw the horrors of war. He’s the one who sacrificed for this country,” he said. “I’m just his son. I’m the beneficiary of his surviving the war.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.