Sometimes righting a wrong comes a little late in in the great scheme of things. Over 3,000 Chinese Americans who served in WWII are nominated for a Congressional Gold Medal – but the COVID crisis put a crimp in the award ceremony originally set for April. Less than 100 of them are slated to receive a Bronze Star…but Pvt “Gilbert” Hong Hin Hee passed away on Friday at the age of 96, one day before he was to receive his medal. He never knew he had been approved to receive one.
Hong Hin Hee was a noncommisioned supply officer with the Company A, 357th Infantry Regiment. He qualified as a combat infantryman. He was born to immigrant parents in Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii.
His citation only reads:
“For meritorious achievement in active ground combat against the enemy, effective 7 April, 1945, while serving with the 90th Infantry Division in Germany. Private Hee’s exemplary performance of duty in active ground combat was in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and Army of the United States.”
It is unclear exactly what he did, only that whatever it was, was worthy of the Bronze Star medal. On April 7, 1945, the 90th Division of the US Army was pushing into Rhineland through battles with the German Army. The history of what they saw and experienced, though not personalized to any one infantryman, can be found at this link.
His son told Stripes that his father rarely spoke of his service.
“All these years have gone by where his military experience was kind of downplayed within the family because, although it was there, he never really spoke of it or amplified it or made a big deal of it.It was just kind of a thing that he did that people recognized and respected…But at the end, to have this kind of honor bestowed upon him for his service, to me, was kind of a nice bookend for his life because he was a young man, went to service and then he received these great honors at the end. And his life in between, whether he himself recognized it or not, was highly influenced by his experience in the military…
He found it amusing that a Chinese American boy from a small town in Waimea, Kauai, was driving a halftrack loaded with U.S. troops through the snow in Germany during wartime. He would just blurt out things like that… What he would talk about is his great respect for the military and about his experience as part of the military — not in the day-to-day actions, but being part of that organization and being part of something great.” Gordon Hee
Respect for the military. Respect that came from the son of immigrant parents. Thank you, Gilbert Hong Hin Hee, for your service.
Featured photo: Pvt. Gilbert Hong Hin Hee and his Bronze Star citation