Since 1940s, Chinese-American Veterans Supports Their Own and ChinatownLIFESTYLE, SLIDER Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Shirley Lew, contributing reporter
Gabe Mui, Adjutant of the Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291, The American Legion in Chinatown is in his office when we met. As an adjutant, Mui is a staff officer assisting a higher-ranking officer in administrative affairs. His position is similar to a director, managing a local chapter under the affairs of American Legion’s state department, which is overseen by its headquarters in Indiana.
Born in China, Mui was stationed in Germany as a transportation specialist during the Vietnam War, though he was never in combat. His office is filled with file cabinets, books, papers and more, most likely a collection of his predecessors.
The office of Post 1291 has been a watering hole for many of the veterans and the handful of World War II veterans that remain. About thirty members come through its Chinatown doors daily and occupy one or more of the three rooms. They come to play cards and board games, but personal stories of their military life are sure to have emerged many times before. To relive their story over and over again is difficult, but when the stories are shared with “buddies,” there is a mutual understanding and appreciation of the service these Asian-American veterans gave to the nation.
“They have common stories. They’ve seen what we’ve seen. There is a common bond when you speak to a buddy,“ Mui tells me.
Today, Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 is still uniquely the largets Chinese-American Post in the nation. Its history dates back to the early 1940s.
“We are the largest Chinese-American Post in the U.S. All the veteran members are uniquely Chinese-American. The second largest is in San Francisco,“ said Mui.
Post 1291’s mission is first and foremost to support and serve its veteran members. It is, “Veterans Serving Veterans”, as The American Legion would put it.
“Anything related to military injury or benefits, we refer the service men and women to the liaison. We help our members get help,” explained Mui. Family members may also come to Post 1291 to ask about benefits and services from the government.
“What role does Post 1291 play in Chinatown?” I asked Mui.
“In the early years, most of the people in the Chinatown organizations did not have people that could speak English. Since we [veterans] served in the military and spoke English, we were able to serve our Chinese community, gain some influence and connections in all levels of the government, “ Mui replied.
Today, Post 1291 continues to support local organizations such as, the Chinatown Youth Initiative (CYI) and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA).
In April, Post 1291 made a $3,000 donation to the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation (CPLDC), an organization currently facing local challenges by Chinatown merchants and property owners on the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID).
“How do you raise funds to support the local organizations?”
“We own the building,” Mui replied.
Since 1961, Post 1291 has owned the building where its third floor office is located. Some tenants include a doctor and a lawyer. The rent they collect along with its membership dues support Post 1291’s mission to provide assistance to veterans, fund scholarships to American Legion youth programs, Boys Nation and Girls Nation, and support local Chinatown non-profit organizations.
“The type of support we give is money,” said Mui.
The Adjutant said they do not raise funds for other non-profits and do not volunteer at events other than their own. They drive their physical efforts back to the American Legion only.
“We are not the typical Chinatown organization. We have evolved in time. We connect with new organizations that start-up in Chinatown. People recognize us as one of the best well-managed organizations. We provide a voice for most people that believe how things should be done [in Chinatown]. If we feel it is not right for the community, we speak up. We have a say on the CCBA’s decisions. We serve on the CCBA’s executive board,” Mui said.
For 20 years, the Post 1291 still has an elected member on the CCBA’s executive board. Located on Mott Street, CCBA has been received by Chinatown residents as the unofficial “town hall” for Chinatown since the 1800s.
Mui told me that many are hesitant to share their combat stories to non-veterans because they fear their experience may be taken lightly or that the understanding of their risks are lost.
Fang A. Wong, a member of Post 1291 had a military career that spanned 20 years. He just completed his campaign across the nation in hopes of becoming the next National Commander of the American Legion. If elected, Wong will also become the first-ever Asian American to take on the position on September 1.
Stay tuned to OurChinatown to find out if Wong is elected.
Weeks ago, I had a telephone conversation with Wong, and I could hear a din of activity coming through the telephone. It sounded like campaign headquarters.
I asked Wong, “How would being elected as the first Asian American National Commander be important for Chinatown?”
“This will bring The American Legion in a brand new light and show diversity,” said Wong emphatically. “Coming from an Asian-American, it will probably enhance the relationship and understanding between the Chinese and mainstream America that we also served this country.”
For Mui, he said Wong’s election may have no influence on improving the livelihood of the Chinatown community, but it would be a great way to bring recognition that Asian Americans also fought along side by side with other ethnic groups in the U.S. military.
Mui and Wong share a vision to increase membership and participation among the younger veterans that served in The Persian Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan. The younger veterans are much needed members to hopefully serve as future officers of Post 1291.
On the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, Post 1291 will hold an outdoor memorial service at 7pm at the Lt. Kimlau Chinese Memorial in Chatham Square. You can also see them march in the Veteran’s Day parade on November 11 in midtown.
For more information on Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291, The American Legion, call 212- 925-5528, or visit: www.LtKimlau.com.Tweet
Short URL: http://www.ourchinatown.org/?p=5702