By Jackson Hau
Arthur Wong is considered a hero by many in the Boston Chinatown community. He has a place in Boston Chinatown’s “hall-of-fame” as one of the forefathers and pioneers who helped establish the social and cultural foundations on which the Boston Chinatown community still continues to build.
Wong may undeniably be a hero among the many generations and community members of Boston’s Chinatown, but he is also a hero and patriot among the Chinese Americans who served and fought in the Second Great War for the United States.
Sitting down and listening to Wong articulate and retell his stories, I find a man that is as sharp as he was in the stories he retells. He doesn’t miss a beat. We’re having dinner and there is nothing that happens he doesn’t miss. If a component of leadership is a reflection of attention to detail, then Wong could have been a general during World War II. His stories are captivating and continuous. He doesn’t recollect himself to recall any event of his service during World War II. He tells his stories as if they occurred yesterday with specificity and meticulous precision. His stories reflect his values and moral character that integrate time honored Chinese ethics with United States Army principles into a neutrality of two cultural ideological doctrines. Chinese custom teaches Chinese Americans to stand up for what is just, and to never allow anyone to “walk all over” them. As a soldier, you never give up and you see each mission to its end; each soldier remembers to never leave a man behind. This conglomeration of two distinct sub-cultures is what comprises Arthur Wong’s character, evident still today.
Wong enlisted voluntarily into the United State Army when he was 18 to help support his country in its time of need. I stress voluntarily, because the difference between a volunteer and draftee lies in the essence of one’s will to serve his country, not out of imposed obligation or forced compulsion, but out of true compassion that comprises a genuine patriotic duty to one’s Great Nation. Upon enlisting, Wong was assigned to the 28th Division, 110th Infantry Regiment. This unit is still an active unit that is a component of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard; the unit patch is a keystone symbol that is red. Picture a red spittoon bucket. This became the 28th’s nickname, the “bloody bucket.” The nickname was a testament to the considerable number of soldiers that never returned home alive after World War II. After enlistment, all soldiers are indoctrinated into the United States Army by going through basic training.
There was one incident during basic training when a fellow soldier questioned Wong’s loyalties and ability to serve his county because of his Chinese descent. Wong confronted the individual with physical confirmation of his fist and enough colorful rhetoric that no one dared question his loyalties and patriotic duty again. After his basic training and indoctrination as an infantryman, Wong was deployed overseas in support of Allied forces in the European theatre. Following time honored military tradition even to this day, every soldier was cross-trained in some other component of soldiering. Wong was trained as an infantryman with a basic M1 Garand rifle, but was further trained as a mortar man and BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) gunner.
Wong’s first combat experience would be a trial by fire, or as General Eisenhower described it to all the allied troops prior to the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, they were soon to “[e]mbark upon the Great Crusade, toward which [they had] striven these many months. The eyes of the world [were upon them].” Wong was to be part of the contingent of the 28th that would support Allied efforts on Omaha Beach, a crucial component of the D-Day Normandy landing, America’s
first major offensive movement into France, then Nazi occupied Europe. Putting this in a civilian-modern-day perspective it’s similar to asking you to run in a marathon, and upon completion of that marathon, to go participate in a triathlon.
After the harrowing, high mortality D-Day Normandy Invasion, Wong and the 28th pressed on to take over the heavily Nazi fortified town of St. Lo. Between the successful occupation by Allied forces of St. Lo and the triumphant march into Paris, Arthur lost his close friend John Cummings, a native of Natick, Massachusetts. Without time to mourn or rest, Wong would take part in the bloody Battle of Hürtgen Forest. Although matching in ferocity, it is often overshadowed by the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred that same winter. It was during this 5-month battle that, to me, Wong truly hallmarked the definition of a hero. At the time, he was a buck sergeant and was instructed to lead his squad of 17 soldiers to charge and occupy a pillbox guarded by German troops. Upon their advance into enemy lines, they were engaged with fire from dug-in German soldiers; Wong gave the command to return a steady rate of fire. The exchange of firefight immediately left one of his soldiers wounded, at which point Wong realized that if his squad remained in their position, his entire squad would end up mortally wounded. He exfiltrated back to friendly lines under enemy fire, or as Wong noted, “bullet dodging,” and was able to direct U.S. Army Sherman tanks to his squad’s pinned down position. Wong, due to his heroic acts of honoring each soldier’s oath “to never give up and to leave no man behind,” was able to save the lives of his 17-man squad and was credited with mortally overwhelming 30 German soldiers.
Fighting during World War II will never be categorized as easy or effortless. It was a difficult war that is very different from the fighting the United States military is engaged in today. But to be the only Chinese American in an Army of people who look nothing like you and to fight among many who may mistakenly question your loyalty is an even more arduous environment to handle. Wong was able to accomplish this. He not only lived through the discrimination while heroically surviving the War, but he was also able to assimilate two different sub-cultures of being both a new American citizen who had just immigrated from China and an American soldier in one of the bloodiest and hard-fought Wars in American history.
Being in the military myself, I often read or hear stories such as Wong’s – stories of glorious military legacy. It is often what inspires, when hope is forlorn; it revives patriotic duty when the meaning of duty is but a stale term mentioned in reference to the bygone years of a past nostalgic era. Today, we are a people that have at times forgotten the many sacrifices that our brave men and women have had to make in order to uphold the pillars of freedom and justice that we all live by. Many now refer to this as an a idealistic way of thinking, but it is because of heroes like Arthur Wong that we are reminded that one’s patriotic duty is not an idealistic dream, but for many like him who fought for our great country.
This post is also available in: Chinese