Sunday, March 2, 2014

Role Models

When I was growing up, I had a variety of men that I admired.  One of the earliest that I recall was Alvin C. York, a fellow Tennessean who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I for single-handedly killing or capturing nearly two hundred Germans.  He was portrayed by Gary Cooper in the 1941 film “Sergeant York.” I’ve also admired other men such as Presidents Washington, Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt; Admiral Nimitz; Winston Churchill; and my father.

Who might my daughter admire?  Who are Chinese and Chinese-Americans that she can look at as models to emulate or simply give her pride in her heritage?

Thanks heavens again for the internet.  I recently came across the website Chinese American Heroes(1) that gives information not only about individual Chinese-Americans of note, but about the history of the Chinese in our country.  Naturally, I am inclined towards those who have made contributions in science and national defense and BOY! have they ever.  A few examples:

--- Major Chew Een “Kurt” Lee, USMC (吕超)Major Lee was the first Asian to be commissioned as an officer in the Marines.  He was awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for valor in Korea.  His younger brother, Chew Mon, was an Army officer who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.  His youngest brother, Chew Fan, was awarded the Bronze Star despite being a conscientious objector.  Major Lee also served in Vietnam.

--- Rear Admiral Gordon Chung-Hoon, USN ().  Admiral Chung-Hoon was the first Asian to graduate from the United States Naval Academy (class of 1934), where he was also a football star.  He was on board USS Arizona on December 7, 1941, and was later awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for valor as the captain of USS Sigsbee (DD-502).

--- Wen Tsing Chow (周文俊).  Mr. Chow (MS, MIT, 1942) was the inventor of what is called PROM – Programmable Read-Only Memory.  This was done as part of the Atlas ICBM program.  In recognition of his many contributions to United States missile and space programs from the Atlas to the Space Shuttle, Chow was posthumously awarded the Air Force Space and Missiles Pioneer Award in 2004.

--- Chien-Shiung Wu (吴健).  Dr. Wu began her education in physics in China, then emigrated to the United States in 1936.  She was awarded her PhD in physics from Berkeley in 1940, after which she worked on the A-bomb project, helping to develop the gaseous diffusion process for enriching uranium.(3)  After the war, she… did a lot of stuff in nuclear physics that I don’t even pretend to understand.  Her book Beta Decay is apparently still the standard work on the subject. A final note: according to UCLA’s website about her:

Wu's father, Wu Zhong-Yi, opened the first school for girls in China. He advised his daughter when she embarked on her scientific career: "Ignore the obstacles... just put your head down and keep walking forward."(4)

--- Margaret Gee (朱美).  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ms. Gee became a pilot and joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots.  She learned to fly (among other aircraft) B-17 bombers and trained male pilots and navigators.  After the war, she got a degree in physics from Berkeley and went on to work in the nuclear weapons program.

These are only a few of some very remarkable people, very remarkable Americans.  I’m glad that I’ve learned who they are, and I intend that my daughter will learn about them, too.



(2)  The Navy Cross is a Navy / Marine Corps award for valor, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The Army equivalent is the Distinguished Service Cross.  The Silver Star is the third-highest award for valor.

(3) This was done at Oak Ridge, TN which my grandfather helped to build during World War II.  According to my grandmother, he would go to work in the morning and come home in the evening for years without ever telling her where he went or what he was doing.


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