'Greatest Generation' includes Asian-Americans

Charles Sue, an uncle of Bellingham veteran and writer Frederick Su, served during World War II in the 65th Engineer Combat Battalion, 25th Infantry Division. The photograph, circa early 1942, shows him at "Boomtown," Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii.
Charles Sue, an uncle of Bellingham veteran and writer Frederick Su, served during World War II in the 65th Engineer Combat Battalion, 25th Infantry Division. The photograph, circa early 1942, shows him at "Boomtown," Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii. FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

As a child, the 1950s was a peaceful, idyllic time. I remember family gatherings in Hawaii with aunts, uncles, cousins, and Ahpo (grandmother).

World War II was over. Standing in the shadow of that cataclysmic event, my cousins and I failed to appreciate the sacrifices of our parents' generation. I've since come to appreciate that generation more.

Last year, my uncle, Charles Sue, who recently died at age 95, began recounting some of his WWII experiences. A Saturday night spent with my Aunt Wilma at Hanauma Bay morphed into a historic Sunday morning, filled with the sound of distant explosions and the sight of black smoke and Japanese airplanes. It was Dec. 7, 1941.

When my cousin Gwenne was interviewing her father for me, Charles told her that my other uncle, Robert Hiroshi Koreyasu, was a combat veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team that had fought so valiantly in Europe. The 442nd suffered 90 percent casualties, and two of those were Hiroshi's buddies.

My God! After all these years, I hadn't heard one peep from my uncles. They were heroes from within my own extended family! That generation didn't brag about their exploits.

The Japanese-Americans of the 442nd are famous for their deeds in WWII, but very little has been said about the Chinese-Americans who served.

Some formed a small minority of the 25th Infantry Division, which was activated on Oct. 1, 1941, at Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii. It included the 65th Engineer Combat Battalion (Uncle Charles' unit) and the 298th Infantry Regiment of the Hawaii National Guard (my father's unit). My other uncle, Tony Ah Choy, who also recently died, served in the National Guard, defending the home islands.

My father (Robert Sue) and Uncle Hiroshi have been deceased for some years, and a wealth of stories are lost. But my father did recount one of his experiences on Guadalcanal.

The Hawaii boys had caught and confronted a white soldier who had stolen some of their belongings. The white soldier pulled a knife ... and that is all I remember. I was to join the Marine Corps soon, so it was an anecdote suggesting that one should not only beware of the enemy, but perhaps some fellow troops too.

Uncle Charles' unit was part of the 35th Regimental Combat Team sent to relieve the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. He remembers spending a month on the high seas, seasick, dodging Japanese subs and dropping depth charges when they detected any, and doing endless calisthenics.

Their refrigerated food was tossed overboard because it had spoiled, and the troops subsisted on coffee for a period of time. They landed in New Caledonia (off Australia) for one to two days to replenish supplies.

On Guadalcanal, the combat engineers were used as regular infantry, and their team drove the Japanese from the central part of the island to Cape Esperance. During this time, he developed yellow fever with a 105-degree temperature. They subsisted on No. 10 cans of chili con carne.

The Japanese had snuck Chinese from Manchuria into Guadalcanal, for slave labor. Charles remembers one of them following his unit like a dog, so happy to be liberated from the Japanese.

Guadalcanal was secured by them in February 1943. Then he took part in the rest of the Solomons campaign, including New Georgia Island. He spent 167 consecutive days in combat. Afterward, his unit had rest and training in New Zealand and New Caledonia, in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines.

The 25th Infantry Division, now assigned to the Sixth Army, landed on the shores of Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Island, Philippines, in January 1945. The men had to discharge the cargo. Charles remembers having to march while towing the 6.4-ton, 155-mm howitzers, to a small town called Binalonan. They continued to San Jose, where in a brief respite, he cut Henry Chung's hair.

Life was very primitive, with no running water. They had to drink from the village wells. They did not interact much with the villagers, he recalls. The 25th Infantry Division suffered the highest casualty rate of any division of the Sixth Army during this campaign.

Tom Brokaw has called those who served in World War II "The Greatest Generation." It wasn't only white Americans who served and fought in World War II. Others included African-, Hispanic-, Native-, Asian-Americans, and others.

They had to battle the enemy and prejudice. Charles remembers one incident on Guadalcanal when black troops were denied entrance into the mess hall by white troops. Charles was even thinking of Officer's Candidate School, but was told he was not officer's material.

Alongside their white brothers-in-arms, Asian-Americans and other minorities endured privation, loneliness, homesickness, disease, and fear. Many were wounded, many died.

They fought on toward victory, helping ensure democracy would survive in the world. Their service in storied battles have shown that America's warriors are multi-hued.

They are as much a part of the fabric of American history as the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, and they deserve our accolades.