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Alfred Chan

World War II Chinese American Congressional Gold Medal Honoree

Our guest writer,

joins us for his first time in the Projectkin Members’ Corner. Ron lectures widely on how to bring family history to life using traditional and AI techniques. He is the founder and executive director of the Bay Area Chinese Genealogy Group, a published genealogy author, and co-founder of the Chinese American GI Project.

Monthly posts from members celebrate their contributions to family history storytelling — in all its forms. Learn more and submit your own stories here.

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Congressional Gold Medal

20,000 Chinese American GIs served in World War II from the shores of the Pacific to the battlefields of Europe, defending American values of freedom. Nearly one of five Chinese Americans served. Forty percent were not even US citizens, as the Chinese Exclusion Act declared them unfit to be Americans. Their acts of heroism, bravery, and sacrifice have largely been ignored, or forgotten. Until now.

Photograph of service member Alfred Chan holding the Congressional Gold Medal as awarded to Chinese American veterans of WWII for their distinguished service.
Alfred Chan holding the Congressional Gold Medal as awarded to WWII  Chinese American Veterans for their distinguished service. Photo credit: Alfred Chan Family.

Finally, after 75 years, Alfred Chan, and his World War II Chinese American comrade at arms were recognized with the highest US civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal.  Finally, they received the honor and respect they deserved

Here is one sailor’s story.

Growing up Country

 Alfred was born June 24, 1924, in San Francisco, California. He was the eldest of six children of immigrant parents, Kin On Chan and Au Wai Seung. Alfred’s Chinese name means, Beautiful View of the Clouds. He grew up on a ranch in the Sacramento Delta, in Courtland, California. When he was old enough to work in the orchards with his sharecropper father, Alfred toiled in the sweltering, 100-degree sun, digging irrigation ditches, picking, pruning, and planting pears, all for a dollar a day.

Alfred Chan as a young man growing up in Courtland, California. Photo Credit: Alfred Chan Family.

Alfred remembers, those were hard days. Hard years. Everyone worked. From youngest to oldest. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. He grew up around heavy machinery, learning how to drive and fix tractors and trucks at an early age on the ranch. Drafted in his junior year in high school, a rugged country boy, Alfred was well suited to serve in a Navy Seabee Construction Battalion, their motto being, We build. We fight. Can do! 

 In 1944, Alfred was shipped aboard the carrier, USS, Hancock, destination Midway Island. There he helped build critical infrastructures for the invasion of Japan such as airfields, munitions depots, and island fortifications. He felt “fear, boredom, and home sickness, but I will kill or be killed.” Alfred celebrated VJ (Victory over Japan) day on Midway Island upon Japan’s surrender. He didn’t remember much that day “as the beer flowed freely”.

Alfred Chan in uniform with all the swagger of a WWII Navy Seabee. Photo Credit: Alfred Chan Family.


 Growing up, being Chinese was not easy. Alfred was forced to attend a segregated Oriental school. He knew what it was like to go hungry after being refused restaurant service, or to stand out in the cold, being refused a movie ticket. In wartime, tensions were especially high against Asian Americans. Alfred was the only Chinese American on Midway Island, and remembers he how was confronted by an angry Marine, who said, “I’m going to kill me a Jap (sic).”


 For 38 years Alfred served his community and country, working at the Alameda Naval Base and the City of Oakland (California). He was a commander, founding and life member, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), East Bay Chinatown Post #3956. He closed each VFW meeting with, “Let there be no future wars. God bless America.”

Alfred (98), and his companion May (94), were together for 75 years. 

Alfred at his 91st birthday party with his companion May. They were together for 75 years. Photo Credit: Alfred Chan Family.

A Son’s Reflections

 Dad and I went on an Honor Flight in 2016 with 24 other veterans to the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. To walk with soldiers, who felt the bitter cold of the Battle of the Bulge or dogged the bloody sands of Utah Beach was an experience of a lifetime. When we went to the Vietnam Memorial, where the names of thousands of the fallen are inscribed, a lady stopped to thank dad for his service. She called him a hero. Dad pointed to the Vietnam Memorial wall, and said, “the heroes are over there.” That moment, I felt the depths of my father’s patriotism.

Me and my dad, Alfred Chan on a Honor Flight to Washington DC in 2016. Photo Credit: Alfred Chan Family.

Dad was a typical Chinese American father of the 1950s. He said few words, and rarely expressed his emotions. He never spoke of his service. Dad worked six days a week to make ends meet, but still gave my sister and me, his Sundays. We made trips to the park, Lake Merritt, and the Oakland (California) duck pond. He was proud of his children who graduated from college, as he did not.

Me and dad wearing his favorite "lucky hat.” Photo Credit: Alfred Chan Family.

Dad provided a lifetime of example, instilling in me the value of work, love of family, and respect for country. There is no better legacy a father can leave a son.

Video Music Credit: Skylar Grey, “Coming Home” Diddy - Dirty Money

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