On May 9, 1943, FEMA Employee Celine Carus’ great-grandmother, Elsie Young, left, accepts a blue star military service flag as she is honored as Military Mother of the Year at Fort Shafter in Honolulu. At the time, her sons Cecil, Clifford and Clarence were serving in the armed services in the Pacific.
This Veterans Day, FEMA is taking the time to honor our veterans. These brave men and women risked everything to strengthen our nation. We are honored that many veterans continue to serve by playing vital roles in the work that we do at FEMA.
One way we honor them is by sharing the stories of our courageous men and women in uniform to ensure they are not forgotten. These stories live on as they are passed down from generation to generation.
FEMA Grants Management Specialist Celine Carus grew up hearing about the service of her ancestors. Last month at the historic Faneuili Hall in Boston, her family finally received the recognition they were due at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony. Carus’s mother accepted a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal for her grandfather George Yuck Yee Chan’s service in the Pacific theater during World War II.
“She really accepted it for all of our family who served,” said Carus.
Their family story began during this nation’s history of codified discrimination against Chinese Americans in the 1800s. During the gold rush of the 1840s, many Chinese people came to America. Needing work that required minimal English proficiency, they often took construction jobs, including helping to build Transcontinental Railroad. Even as Chinese immigrants performed dangerous work on this vital infrastructure project, they were often subjected to violent and racist attacks.
Born in Los Angeles in 1919, George and his brother, Charles, became the first Chinese graduates of Rice University in 1942 earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering while managing the family’s grocery store. As World War II continued, George served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 - 47, joining the fight in Shanghai and advancing in rank from ensign to lieutenant.
Carus would learn of stories about her great uncles from her mother, who conducted oral interviews to preserve their wartime stories.
“I grew up hearing family talk about the Pacific front, but a lot of famous movies I saw focused on conflict in Europe and never showed people who looked like my family who served,” said Carus. “I think it’s important to recognize and publicize photographs of all the people who served and represented the U.S. during wartime when they weren’t being treated with the same dignity at home.”
Three great uncles from her family served in World War II. Clifford Young, served as an infantry troop commander in the Philippines and China from 1942-47, as a liaison for General George C. Marshall during cease fire negotiations. Clarence Young was a lead navigator during the retaking of Luzon Island in the Philippines and was awarded the Air Medal with two clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in the Southwest Pacific. Cecil M. Young became a lieutenant and a member of the Flying Tigers.
Family members will be receiving posthumous medals for these three members for their service.
As many as 20,000 of the 78,000 Chinese Americans living in the U.S. during World War II served in the Armed Forces. About 40% of these service members were not U.S. citizens, due to laws denying them citizenship.
In 2018, Congress sought to right this injustice by passing the Chinese American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act, honoring the service of Chinese Americans who volunteered to fight in the war, despite the anti-Chinese discrimination at the time.
Stories like these are vital parts of this nation’s history. By sharing them, we can ensure they won’t be forgotten.
Celine Carus' mother Corrine Chan accepts a a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal on the family's behalf.