Celebrating Heroes

The Honorable Pete Olson at his Sugar Land office presenting Staff Sergeant Lewis Yee a Congressional Recognition with daughter Sue Chiang watching.

Every May, our country celebrates Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month. America would not be America, Texas would not be Texas and Fort Bend would not be Fort Bend without the contributions and heroism of our Asian American neighbors. They are the fastest growing ethnic group in the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S.A.  Fort Bend Strong!

While I have received many ideas for this month’s column, I’m focusing on Asian and Pacific American Heritage. I’m going to start with the story of a friend, Lewis Yee. If you haven’t met Lewis, maybe you’ve met his daughter, Sue Chiang? Or, maybe you’ve met Sue’s daughter and Lewis’ granddaughter, Jennifer Chiang Meyer?  Lewis is 98 years-old. He grew up in Houston. His family came from China. As young boy, Lewis worried about family members living in China because of the raging war with the Empire of Imperial Japan after Manchuria was invaded on September 18, 1831. There were reports that enraged Lewis. Did the Imperial Japanese occupiers commit mass murders and rapes of 200,000 innocent Chinese citizens when they occupied China’s capital city, Nanjing, in December 1937?  Lewis wanted to fight for his family in China, but how could an American get into a war that America was not yet involved?

He found his answer with a group of American military pilots who resigned from our military to fight Imperial Japan, one year before Imperial Japan brought America into World War II with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This group was officially known as the American Volunteer Group or AVG. You may know them as the Flying Tigers. After training for most of 1938 and scraping together weapons, fuel and spare parts, the Flying Tigers flew their first combat mission against Imperial Japan 12 days after Pearl Harbor was devastated.  On their own for seven months, without any consistent support from the U.S., the Flying Tigers whipped the Japanese air force – 300 planes destroyed with only 69 Flying Tigers shot down. At age 18, Staff Sergeant Lewis Yee joined legends like Pappy Boyington and Tex Hill – all members of the Flying Tigers. Fort Bend Strong!

Before the end of World War II, Lewis had one more battle to fight. This battle was with his own government in Washington, D.C. In 1882, for the first time in American history, our nation levied severe immigration restrictions on one specific ethnic group – the Chinese. It was accurately called The Exclusion Act.  Having proudly fought with the Flying Tigers in China, Lewis wanted his parents to leave China and join him in America.  Being a Texan, Lewis grabbed the bull by the horns. He helped a friend draft a petition to repeal The Exclusion Act. That petition became the basis for the Magnuson Act – a full repeal of The Exclusion Act on December 17, 1943. Lewis’ mother came to America.

Lewis married Roberta 73 years ago on Veterans’ Day.  Roberta is three years younger than Lewis. If you want to see who is in command in the Yee house, watch a KHOU 11 video story by Shern-Min Chow after Lewis and his fellow Chinese American World War II veterans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on my 58th birthday, December 9, 2020. I first met Lewis on June 1, 2017 in my Sugar Land office where I presented him with a Congressional Recognition for his service to our nation.   Fort Bend Strong!

I must close by keeping a promise I made to another World War II hero – Lt. Col. Dick Cole.  Most of us don’t recognize Dick’s name, but 8th grade American History touches on his extraordinary mission – the “Doolittle Raid” led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.  After Pearl Harbor, our nation’s morale was terrible.  The USS ARIZONA was still smoldering, and we were about to lose the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island to the Imperial Japanese. A desperate President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted to strike Japan’s mainland, but how? None of our land-based bombers had the range to bomb Japan. Our carriers would likely be sunk, and the war lost if we launched our ship-based bombers.  Their relatively short range meant our ships would be in range of the entire Japan air force. We would be overwhelmed.

Navy Captain Francis Low had the solution – launch land-based medium bombers off of an aircraft carrier.  Maybe we could hit Japan without the carriers being exposed? It had never been done before, and there was no time to practice on a ship, but 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were strapped to the flight deck of the USS HORNET. The fleet traveled across the Pacific Ocean in complete secrecy heading to Japan but were spotted hours before their launch point by a Japanese patrol boat.  The admiral in charge of the carriers told Colonel Doolittle that he must turn around before reaching the launch point.  Colonel Doolittle assembled the 79 other Raiders and asked a simple question, “Do we take off now, bomb Japan, run out of gas over Japanese occupied China and likely be executed?”  Colonel Doolittle’s copilot and the other men all voted to bomb Japan. That copilot was Dick Cole.

All 16 planes took off with Colonel Doolittle and Dick Cole being the first off deck. All 16 planes bombed Japan.  Fifteen crashed into Japanese occupied China. One went down in Russia. Of the 75 American aviators on the ground in occupied China, eight were captured.  Three of the eight captured were executed. Remarkably, 77 of the Doolittle Raiders came home to their families. Dick Cole was one of the survivors.

Dick Cole and Pete Olson at Wings Over Houston.

Dick knew that the Chinese people – Lewis Yee’s family and friends – saved his life. The Imperial Japanese were livid that a foreign nation had brought war to Japanese soil for the first time in over 1,000 years. Seventy-five Caucasians were on the ground in China, and the Japanese could only capture eight?  The local Chinese must have helped the Americans evade capture. The occupier’s actions of retaliation were worse than Nanjing. At least 250,000 Chinese citizens were executed or raped. Remarkably, not ONE Chinese citizen told the Japanese about Dick Cole. Dick Cole escaped to Burma and rejoined the war effort.

I authored legislation that awarded Dick Cole and the other Doolittle Raiders the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015.  Only three of the 77 survivors were still alive. Dick was one of them. My friend was the last surviving Raider. He was 103 years-old when God called him home on April 9, 2019.  I met Dick many times before he died, and every time we met, he made me promise that I would thank anyone from China who may have been alive during World War II.  He came home because of their courage. Lewis Yee, Dick Cole says, “THANK YOU!!!!” That’s Fort Bend Strong!

I’ve written four Fort Bend Strong Columns so far. Three of those columns included input from y’all. Lewis Yee came from you. Please email your ideas for a Fort Bend Strong story to pete@absolutelyfocusmedia.com.

Together, we are always Fort Bend Strong!