Duckworth Honors Chinese American WWII Veterans at Congressional Gold Medal Award Gala
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee who served in the Reserve Forces for 23 years, spoke at the Chinese American WWII Veterans’ Congressional Gold Medal Award Gala tonight. The gala honors the Chinese American Veterans who received a Congressional Gold Medal for serving our nation in World War II despite facing outright discrimination at home, an honor made possible after Duckworth’s Chinese American World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Act was signed into law in 2018. Her legislation authorized Congress to award the highest civilian honor to recognize the tremendous contributions made by the more than 18,000 Chinese American World War II Veterans. In her speech, Duckworth discussed the service and sacrifices of these brave Veterans and the importance of diversity and inclusion in our military and across all leadership positions within our nation.
- “Throughout World War II, thousands and thousands of Chinese-Americans stepped up in the most dangerous of conditions.?Some were born on America’s shores… others may not even have been granted citizenship yet… but time and again, heroes like Captain Wai heeded the call of their nation when it needed them the most.”
- “Look, there will always be people who want to build walls. But the miracle of America is that when it looks like those worst instincts are set to prevail, we come together and resist—together.
- “Chinese-Americans helped unite this country… helping build the railroad that stretched from sea to shining sea… Laying the tracks… tilling the fields... starting the businesses... and picking up the rifles necessary to develop and defend the nation they loved… Day after day, they helped prove that America’s greatest asset is the diversity of its people.”
Duckworth’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
I’m so honored to be able to speak to you tonight—albeit virtually.??
On October 20th, 1944, Captain Francis Brown Wai set foot on the Phillipines’ Red Beach with one goal in mind: to recapture the nearby area from enemy control.
What he saw boded poorly. The Soldiers around him appeared to be pinned down. Leaderless. The situation was unstable... veering toward chaos.
So he decided to act.
He assumed charge of those around him. No matter the risk to himself, no matter his lack of cover, he raced forward on the open beach… trying to draw the fire of enemy forces to reveal their whereabouts.?
Somehow, he managed to do just that. Enemy positions were exposed and American forces were able to follow his lead and charge ahead.?
Soon after, Captain Wai was killed in the effort to overcome the final Japanese pillbox in the area.?
But thanks in large part to his sacrifices… to his courage… to his leadership… the United States was able to recapture the Philippines.
Captain Wai’s story is exceptional. But it’s by no means the exception.?
Throughout World War II, thousands and thousands of Chinese-Americans stepped up in the most dangerous of conditions.?
Some were born on America’s shores… others may not even have been granted citizenship yet… but time and again, heroes like Captain Wai heeded the call of their nation when it needed them the most…?
Willing to sacrifice overseas for the same country that all too often still discriminated against them at home…?
Struggling on land, sea and in air half-a-world-away for the same nation that still made them struggle for their basic rights back on U.S. soil.
Despite the bigotry… despite the danger… these heroes strapped on their boots… packed up their rucks... and raised their hands to serve... believing that fighting for the United States… that fighting for what was right... was worth the sacrifice.
We will never be able to repay these brave Americans for what they have done. But it’s our duty to try.?
So tonight, I am incredibly thankful that at long last, we can begin to honor them. That tonight, we can say thank you. We can say it over and over and over again.?
Because our country, and our world, wouldn’t be the same if they hadn’t packed those rucks… if they hadn’t risked so much to fight for a country that all too often still refused to fight for them.?
You know, in a very literal sense, Chinese-Americans helped unite this country… helping build the railroad that stretched from sea to shining sea…
Laying the tracks… tilling the fields... starting the businesses... and picking up the rifles necessary to develop and defend the nation they loved…
Day after day, they helped prove that America’s greatest asset is the diversity of its people.
Because despite what some folks suggest, you can’t measure the strength of this nation by the size of our defense budget.
No. Instead, the true strength of America lies in our values and what we represent to the rest of the world.
I still remember—this must’ve been in 1995 or ’96—being on a mission in Egypt.
I was in the Illinois National Guard, so when my crew climbed out of our helicopter, I was surrounded by a bunch of Polish-American and Irish-American guys.
After all, we were the Chicago Guard unit.
Some local villagers came to look at our aircraft and ask if they could get in. One of my buddies responded that they only could if they got permission from the platoon leader—and then pointed at me.
The locals’ response was, “The short Asian girl?!”
“Yup,” my guys said. “She’s in charge.”
They could hardly believe that among all those tall, blonde, white guys, I was the one in command.
Well, that’s a story of this country at its best.
We are a nation of immigrants… a union that, yes, at times has been anything but united.
And yes, we’ve had moments when bigotry has prevailed… when we’ve treated our neighbors as “less-than” because of their race or their religion…?
Many—far, far too many—of those moments have happened just in the past year, as Asian-Americans nurses have been spat on…?
As Asian-American children have been shoved off their bicycles…
As Asian-American elderly women like my own mom have been harassed in the middle of grocery store aisles due to the xenophobia that has plagued our community for so long and that the previous President only made worse.
But what I think tonight shows is that our community will always, always refuse to give in to that darkness.
Look, there will always be people who want to build walls.
But the miracle of America is that when it looks like those worst instincts are set to prevail, we come together and resist--together.
Black, white, Asian, Latinx, gay, straight, transgender, male, female, you name it… we take action.
We speak out.
We help bend the moral arc of the universe, not waiting for anyone else to do it for us.
We demand justice… fairness… equality…?
No matter if it takes seven days or, as we’re witnessing tonight, 70-plus years.?
No matter if the end result is fairer voting laws or better immigration policy or some long, long overdue medals recognizing thousands of heroes’ courage thousands of miles away.
So now, we must both honor how far we’ve come and recognize the work still left to be done to ensure that every Chinese-American… every Asian-American… and every other person, regardless of race… can begin that pursuit of happiness promised to them in our country’s founding document.?
Because we’ll only ever reach that more perfect Union our founders dreamed of when we embrace the power of our diversity.
Tonight, we’ve moved one step closer to that more just, more equal future.
So thank you. Thank you to each of you for making tonight a reality.?
Thank you to every one of you who has served, and in the process has made this country safer for our children.?
And thank you once more for letting me speak to you here tonight.
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