A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN LEGION LT. B. R. KIMLAU POST 1291 (1946 – 1996)
The American Legion, Lt. B.R. Kimlau Post 1291, had its beginning during the later part of 1944. It was organized by a group of World War II veterans who, after much hardship and runaround, were finally successful in obtaining a charter from The National American Legion Headquarters in 1945. There were 96 original charter members for the new Post, all but one were of Chinese descent. The approved charter name for this Post was ‘The American Legion, Lt. B.R Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291”. Lt. Kimlau was an American of Chinese descent. He served as an Air Force bomber pilot in World War II. While assigned to the Southwest Pacific theater, he was killed in action during air battles over the New Guinea Islands.
When first organized, the Post had its temporary headquarters at 185 Worth Street, but office space there was very limited. With a growing membership and a need for more operational room, the Post later leased and moved to the second floor of 196 Canal Street in 1945. After much renovation and organization, the Post was in full operation – both to serve the needs of the members and to prepare for its official opening.
On April 28, 1946, the Lt. Kimlau Post was officially established with a formal opening ceremony in Columbus Park, Chinatown, and was followed by a huge parade and celebration. At that time, membership already exceeded 600, and the first Post Commander was George Mar Lee.
With the active involvement in various community affairs, the Lt. Kimlau Post was quick to become an influential organization in the Chinese community shortly after its official opening. Our Post became a strong ally of the Chinese Benevolent Association, offering advice and assistance in resolving important local community issues.
We were instrumental in the two successful appeals to the US Congress for the fair and equal treatment of immigration laws pertaining to Chinese, and the increase of Chinese refugee quotas. Also during that period due to numerous traffic accidents and mishaps that occurred on a regular basis in Chinatown, the Post took the initiative to petition the New York City Department of Transportation for traffic lights. The request was granted with the immediate installation of traffic lights for the streets of Chinatown to protect the pedestrians.
In order to provide an everlasting memorial for those Chinese-Americans who had answered the call of our nation and provided the supreme sacrifice, the Lt. Kimlau Post petitioned the City of New York in 1958 for a site at Chatham Square to build a memorial. After many delays and rejections, the Post finally obtained permission in early 1961 to change the name of “Chatham Square” to “Kimlau Square” and erected a memorial to honor all Chinese-Americans who died while serving our nation. On April28, 1962,an unveiling ceremony for the memorial was conducted with a parade and a big celebration afterward.
In recognition of the need to establish a permanent Post Headquarters, the Lt. Kimlau Post acquired a 6-story building at 191-193 Canal Street in 1961 for that purpose. It took two years to complete the renovation of this new headquarters. On April 28,1963, the Lt. Kimlau Post celebrated its 19th anniversary, the installation of newly elected officers, and the relocation to its new building. There were over 1000 participants in the celebration, including members, their families, and VIPs. These included the American Legion Commander; US Senator Hiram Fong of Hawaii, Republic of China Ambassador to the UN Ambassador Liu Kia, Republic of China’s Chief Military Delegate to the UN General S.M. Wang, and numerous state and city officials, and community leaders.
In September 1946, then President of the Republic of China’s Executive Yuan Mr. Chiang Ching-kuo, visited New York as part of his state tour of the U.S. He was well received by the Chinese community, and was also honored by the Lt. Kimlau Post. Other prominent people received distinguished recognition from our Post included: Air Force Lt. Gen. Chennault, US Army Gen. J.A. Van Fleet, US Senator Fong of Hawaii, Mayor R. Wagner of NYC, Ambassador Tang of the R.O.C., and NYPD Inspector Beatty.
The decades of the fifties and sixties were considered by many as our Post’s most prominent period. We exceeded 1000 in membership, and many members were also active and in leadership positions in other community organizations. The Post created an extensive service program to aid various causes, e.g., flood relief earthquake relief, refugee relief, educational grants, etc.. The Post donated funds to the True Light School Drum and Fife Band for the purchase of lockers to store uniforms. We also gave donations to the Chinese Community School Band for instruments and uniforms, and contributed $1,000 as capital fund to implement a recreation center for Chinatown youth at the Chinese Community Center.
Our Post once ran a Scholarship Program during 1965 through 1968 to encourage and provide opportunity for the children of Legionnaires to study Chinese language and culture, and to give financial aid to needy students with excellence in academic achievement to continue or complete their higher education. More than one hundred sons and daughters of our members were recipients and benefited from this program.
For fellow Legionnaires, the Post instituted services that included applications for various benefits, applications for immigration of family members, employment referral, rehabilitation care, weekly visitation of sick and disabled members, and care of dependents. The Post also provided a variety of programs to meet the needs of many age groups, such as the annual installation dinner party, parades (Columbus’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Double Ten, and others) weekend movies, teen parties, picnics, and annual Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. At onetime, nearly a thousand children received toys and candies from Santa Claus at the Post’s Annual Christmas Party.
Our Post, in order to keep our membership informed of the progress of its activities, published newspapers such as ” The Bugle Journal” in 1957, and “The Kimlau Post Journal” from September 1963 through March 1968 – nearly five years for a total of 14 issues. The format was available both Chinese and English. The paper was self-supported by advertisements. It was the first bilingual newspaper ever published by an American Legion post. Our editors won recognition from the American Legion National Press Association and were invited to join them..
In 1965, the post formed a “Tai-chi Chuan” exercise class. Many members were very enthusiastic toward this program because our teacher was the internationally famous Taichi Master William C.C. Chen. Nowadays members still practice on Sunday afternoon, led by Master Lee Kuoying. Many of the above-mentioned activities and services are still being performed by the Post, especially in the areas of membership benefits and privileges.
In 1970s, U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was in a stalemate The political situation at home was in turmoil. Inflation was rampaging. The impact on the lives of citizens was brutal. Our post was in great financial difficulty during that time. We almost needed to borrow to sustain our organizational operating expenses. Our Post Commanders then started a restructuring program. Unnecessary activities were either curtailed or suspended in order to make ends meet. During the hard times, our Post Commanders were kept busy trying to seek ways and means to bring in more income for our post. It was then decided to convert the 4th, 5th and 6th floors into separate offices. It was the wisest move made by our able past commanders. The innovation helped to maintain the post’s existence. Nevertheless, the Kimlau Post did not neglect its commitment to the community. We saw the dire need of new immigrants, and undertook a program to teach them basic English in order for them to become citizens of the United States. Many were benefited by this worthy program.
The 1980s brought an influx of new immigrants from the third world, especially from Taiwan and Hong Kong as 1997 draws near. The fiber of the local community was greatly changed. Real property values went skyrocketing, businesses of all kind were flourishing. Our post finances improved a great deal by these changes. However, the long suspended programs of the past could not be revived as our members aged. Our members’ interests also changed direction. Our post started to adapt to the great changes and planned new programs for our members focusing on benefits and services. To inform our members of on-going activities, the Post periodically mailed out a newsletter.
At the present time, our Post provides a variety of newspapers and magazines for members to read, Mahjong, playing cards, and Chinese chess games to play, and other recreation, and a weekly Tai-chi exercise class to keep them fit. Afternoon tea and buns are also served. Our members enjoy these programs very much, and started to bring in more new members, veterans who had not joined us before. We are especially pleased that the younger generations of veterans are also starting to sign up, as we badly need an infusion of new blood to carry on our post activities. In summary, the success and achievements of the Lt. Kimlau Post for the past fifty years were due primarily to the great vision and the extraordinary efforts put forth by our Post founding members and to the leadership of able Past Commanders. They had given us a solid organization fully committed to the principles of the American Legion. They provided us with an organization which not only commands respect, but is also an active member of the community.
The Lt. Kimlau Post has a fine tradition of caring and giving; our members are dedicated to upholding the goals and ideals of Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Loyalty. Looking toward the future, the Kimlau Post will certainly continue to serve our members, community, state and country, as per our national preamble.