The Adjutant’s Report
By Gabe B. Mui, Department Vice Commander, Post Adjutant
The Kimlau Post will celebrate its 75th Anniversary in June this year. It is hard to imagine how fast the festivities are approaching. It is still fresh in my memory that we just celebrated our 70th Anniversary not long ago. The Chinese School’s Crimson King Band are performing patriotic songs in front of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the Praying Mantis Lion Troupe are putting on a fantastic show, the New York State Court Officers’ Bagpipe Band are still playing patriotic music. But, the truth is that it has been five years and we are now working diligently to ensure we have another successful celebration. Unfortunately our 75th Anniversary celebration was dealt a major setback when the coronavirus pandemic started to spread in the United States in March of this year. Government officials issued a lock-down order for all nonessential businesses, warning that everyone must stay at home to flatten the curve and to prevent further spread of the virus. Our Post complied with the directive and put all planned upcoming events on hold, which included our 75th Anniversary celebration. It was unprecedented to take these steps but it was a necessary one to protect the health and safety of our members, as well as our community. Cancelling our celebration was a huge disappointment to all of us that were looking forward to this significant milestone in our Post’s history. Although the celebration was cancelled, our Post is determined to keep up with our tradition of publishing a commemorative journal to document and highlight the past five years.
Over the past five years, we have many accomplishments to be proud of. We are so proud of the hard work and dedication of our leadership to ensure that the Post is marching forward and continuing on a successful path. These accomplishments seem diminished a little when we reflect on the passing of an inspirational leader. It is hard to believe that Peter Woo, our “Chairman”, is no longer with us to celebrate the Post’s 75th Anniversary. Chairman Peter Woo passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, December 15, 2018. It was a huge loss for the Lt. Kimlau Post 1291 and we all miss him dearly. Chairman Woo was a WWII Veteran and served with the famed Flying Tiger Unit in the China, Burma and India Theater. He was the most senior leader of Lt. Kimlau Post 1291 and he was an incredibly kind hearted person, a mentor whom I looked up to and admired. He was a man of warmth and decency, who left an indelible mark on countless people and members of the Kimlau Post during his lifetime of service to the American Legion. He single handedly secured our permanent Post Headquarters. He was a driving force and utilized his close connections with city government officials to expedite the building of the Lt. Kimlau Memorial at Kimlau Square. Above all, he often said he was most proud of the fact that he instilled a sound financial record keeping system in the Post’s early days to ensure accountability of the Post’s finances, laying the foundation for our Post’s continued growth. This was one of many countless contributions made by Chairman Woo that greatly benefited our Post during and after his tenure. Chairman Woo was a fixture in the Post; he regularly came to the Post almost daily for the past 50 plus years. Even on December 15th, he spent the whole day at the Post talking with members and enjoying his favorite game of “Sky Nine” before he passed away peacefully at home.
There have been so many challenging projects we completed over the last five years, but the one that stands out was the renovation of the Post Headquarters. Our Post headquarters, aside from some minor upgrades through the years, had not been renovated since it was completed in the early sixties. Updates to both the second floor auditorium and the offices on the third floor were in desperate need. The first phase of the renovation work was to replace the existing wood paneling, the vinyl floor tiles, the old ceiling, update the bathrooms and all the electric fixtures. After a few months of extensive renovations, the brand new auditorium was formally dedicated on July 4th, 2015. It was dedicated as the “Chairman Peter Woo Auditorium”, in honor of our long time Chairman, who contributed greatly in the purchasing of the Post’s permanent headquarters. The unveiling ceremony was attended by members of the Post, the Chairman’s family, community dignitaries, and the Chinese media. The next phase of renovations was the third floor, where the Post operations and day-to-day business are conducted and members socialize. We had to work out the logistics to allow for the renovation work to be done, and continue the Post’s normal operations at the same time. Other than the inconvenience of shifting the operation from room to room during the renovation, we encountered very few interruptions. The renovation was completed on schedule, with a modern and comfortable place to meet and work for our members for years to come.
While we are happy that our Post building is in tip top shape, it is disheartening to see the deterioration of the Chinese-American Veterans Memorial at Kimlau Square due to years of neglect by the City of New York. The deteriorating condition of this prominent monument reflects poorly upon our community and the Kimlau Post. It is such an important symbol, held dear in the hearts by Chinese-American veterans and their families for the sacrifices they endured in serving this great country. In the late fifties, our Post recognized the need to memorialize the Chinese-American contribution, especially those who served the country with honor and distinction to protect and defend our freedom. After years of planning and working with City Hall to find a suitable place in Chinatown, which was no small feat, we were finally granted permission to build the monument on a traffic island where Bowery, Worth Street, Mott Street and East Broadway meet. The monument was designed by one of our members, Poy G. Lee, a famed architect. After several revisions to scale down the original design from four columns to two columns due to the underground water main that would not support a large monument, it was finally completed and dedicated in 1962. Every year, we host our Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other ceremonies in front of the monument that are attended by countless community dignitaries and government officials. The monument has becomes a symbol and sacred place for our members and the Chinese community. Since the piece of land that the monument was built on is city owned land, we were required to turn over the ownership and management, including all maintenance, to the Transportation Department of New York City once it was completed. The area surrounding the traffic island went through a few reconfigurations in the nineties for a new traffic pattern and was merged with East Broadway to become a small park. This was later dedicated and named Kimlau Square Park by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Administration to honor the Chinese-American Veterans. Following the reconfiguration, the responsibility of maintaining the monument was transferred to the New York City Parks Department. We have observed in recent years that the Parks Department has not kept up with routine maintenance. We have met with the Parks Department numerous times and even offered to repair the damage at our own expense, but to no avail. In 2019, after years of neglect, the monument was declared unsafe by the New York City Parks Department. We are now urgently working with the Park Department to come up with a solution to either repair or rebuild the monument.
The Lt. Kimlau Post Color Guard has a long and proud history of serving our community and holds a personal place in my heart, as I was a member of this distinguished unit practically from the date I joined the Post. They are not only an essential part of our annual Memorial Day Parade and Veterans Day Parade; they also participate in numerous community functions. They have received much praise and are widely recognized as the best color guard unit in New York County. But many in the color guard unit are of advanced age and we desperately need our younger members to step up and carry on this proud tradition. The Post realizes the cost of the color guard uniform is substantial; a reimbursement program to offset the cost has been instituted for many years. We appealed to our younger members who are interested in joining this proud and patriotic unit and are happy to report that a few young members have responded to our desperate call to reinforce the Post’s color guard unit in the past few years.
It was such an honor for the Lt. Kimlau Post to host a parade and a wreath laying ceremony at the Kimlau Memorial when U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and her father, Dr. James C. S. Chao, visited Chinatown on Memorial Day weekend in 2017. Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association President Jerry Shao and other community leaders participated in the parade down Mott Street to the Kimlau Memorial. In her speech, Secretary Chao thanked the Chinese-American Veterans for their sacrifices and their contribution in defending and preserving the freedom we all enjoy today. The Kimlau Post was so grateful for the Secretary’s participation and tribute to the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country. Secretary Chao also participated in a very moving ceremony after the 9-11 tragedy at the Kimlau Memorial, while serving as the U. S. Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush’s administration.
We were appreciative that Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez took the time to present an American Flag to our Post in the Chairman Peter Woo Auditorium. She had arranged for the flag to be flown on Capitol Hill on behalf of our Post to honor our continued contribution to the country and the community. She told us that her uncle, who was a Korean Veteran, had served during the Korean conflict. She has worked tirelessly on all of the veterans’ legislation to ensure that the government does not forget their sacrifices. Our Post is proud of our legacy and our continued service to veterans and the community. It is always such an honor when our elected officials recognize our services.
Our Post had the extreme honor to host a Veteran’s Day dinner attended by both National Commander Denise Rohan and Department Commander Rena Nessler. Both Commander Rohan and Commander Nessler were the first females to lead the National and Department of New York respectively. “Family First” was National Commander Denise Rohan’s theme and focal point for that year. She asked the Legion posts to open their doors to veterans and their communities for Legion family dinners on and around Veteran’s Day. Commander Rohan said the American Legion is indeed a family, similar to those formed during military service. “When we went through basic training, we learned that we may have our own personal families at home, but we also have a new family in our brothers and sisters within our rank.” We gained new family members every place we went. Thirty-five midshipmen of the Chinese Cultural Club from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland also attended our Veteran’s Day dinner. They have been visiting our Post around Veteran’s Day weekend for the past four years. They also joined us at “America’s Parade” hosted by the United War Veterans on Fifth Avenue on Veteran’s Day. The Auxiliary and Sons of American Legion members also attended the buffet dinner. It was truly a “Family First” dinner.
Membership is everyone’s business and is recognized as key to every organization’s success. The American Legion has always placed a premium on maintaining a strong membership base, giving the Legion a strong voice in advocating benefits for veterans, which they have earned serving and defending our country. The declining membership throughout American Legion posts in recent years is alarming. Our Post recognized the need for aggressively recruiting new members, but at the same time, keeping our existing members was equally as important. To encourage members to take an active role and increase participation, the Kimlau Post had been reimbursing members’ transportation expenses for attending Post meetings and functions for many years. Even with this policy in place, our Post’s membership was slowly in decline due to the departure of the WWII and Korea Conflict members. In the 2019 National Convention in Indiana, we received good news; the Legion Act was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, which declared the United States has been in a state of war since Dec. 7, 1941. The Legion Act (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act) also opened the door for approximately 6 million veterans to access American Legion programs and benefits for which they previously had not been eligible. With the Legion Act, more veterans are now eligible to join and should help grow our membership. On a brighter note, more than a third of our Post’s membership consists of Gulf War veterans who are eager to participate in Post activities.
We are sad to see the rapid dwindling of our World War II Veterans, the “Greatest Generation”. We need to do all we can to thank them for their bravery in defending our freedom while they are still here with us. Our Post had been working closely the last few years with Chinese American Citizen Alliance on the Congressional Gold Medal project as a way to thank their sacrifice. The Congressional Gold Medal is an award bestowed by Congress and is the highest civilian award in the United States. Bills were introduced to award a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of the 20,000 Chinese American men and women who served in the U. S. Armed Services during World War II. Retired Maj. General William S. Chen, the first Chinese-American 2-star General and the son of a WWII fighter pilot who served under General Chennault in the 14th Air Force, told the audience during a conference at the Chairman Peter Woo Auditorium that the U.S. House of Representatives had unanimously passed the Chinese-American World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Act, also known as H.R. Bill 2358, on December 12, 2018. President Trump signed it into law on December 20, 2018. The Chinese-American World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal effort was led by the Chinese American Citizen Alliance and they plan to present the medal in the spring in Washington, D. C. for those WWII veterans and family members who could travel to the nation’s capital to receive the award. Our Post also worked with the Chinese American Citizen Alliance to host a regional medal presentation for WWII veterans and/or their family. General Chen encouraged all Chinese WWII veterans and/or descendants to register to receive their long overdue recognition for their heroic services to the country during WWII. Our Post mailed out notices to the family members of all WWII veterans in our Post’s records to remind them to register for the award. We also worked with New York City Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) to broadcast the message, hoping to reach the descendants of Chinese-American World War II Veterans who are no longer receiving communications from our Post or the Chinese American WWII veterans who are not members of our Post.
Over the past few years, our Post has tried to find an effective way to communicate with our members. With more and more people employing the Internet as their main communication tool, our Post recognized the effectiveness and cost savings gained from circulating important information to our members in a timely manner through email. In June 2019, for the first time, we emailed the quarterly newsletter to all of our members that updated their emails with us. The feedback from our members was a resounding success. At the same time, we reconfigured our Post’s website to be easily accessible by members. All pertinent information and past newsletters were uploaded to our website for anyone who wished to check on the older newsletters. Some members suggested the Post should provide members with free Internet connection at the Post during a meeting a couple of years ago. We have since installed a Wi-Fi network with strong signal that allows members to access a free Internet connection anywhere at the Post.
There were many other events our Post participated in over the last five years. To name a few, our Post received an incredible honor when New York State Senator Daniel Squadron nominated the Lt. B. R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post as a candidate for the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame. We attended the induction ceremony at the Senate Chamber in Albany, hosted by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. Senator Squadron thanked the Kimlau Post for their outstanding service and contribution to the local community and the country. We were invited by retired U.S. Navy Captain Richard Pusateri, Office of Military and Veterans Service Manager at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to speak to students about our military experience at the Asian Pacific Military Heritage Luncheon in April 2018 at the Veterans Student Center. We highlighted the good times, the struggles, and our unwavering commitment to serve our country and the speech was well received by the students. During the Asian/Pacific Americans Heritage Month in May 2017, the US Army’s North East Medical Area Readiness Support Group (NE-MARSG) recognized contributions by the Chinese-Americans veterans. We were invited by Col. Saladin-Muhammad of the NE-MARSG stationed at Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island to speak about our personal, military and American Legion experiences and to receive an award. Our Post has worked with the U. S. Marines on the Toys for Tots program since 2015 and we continue to do so today. We have distributed over 5,000 toys to underprivileged children in the Chinatown community. Our Post is committed to support the Chinatown community by serving on the board of the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association (CCBA) and the board of the Chinatown Business Improvement District (BID) since its inception. The BID’s main mission is to maintain cleanliness and to advocate for a better Chinatown community for businesses and residents. I was honored to have served as the BID’s chairman for the past five years.
It has been a very busy and rewarding five years and I am grateful for all that has been accomplished. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride that I have contributed to the success of the Kimlau Post. As we are preparing to celebrate the Post’s 75th Anniversary, I have come to realize that all of the accomplishments in the last five years would not have been achieved if not for the foresight, vision, and strong foundation provided by our past leaders. Undoubtedly, we will be facing a much tougher road ahead without our most respected leader, Chairman Peter Woo, to guide us for the first time in decades. We all must be strong, united and do our very best to continue to build on the legacy that was passed on to us to be successful for the next seventy-five years and beyond. We need the younger members to step forward to take on a more active role and carry the torch in the future. With the large group of young veterans joining our ranks in the past few years, I can envision that the future of our Post will be bright and we will continue to be successful.