HONOLULU (KHON2) — A WWII tragedy had far-reaching affects for young men wishing to enlist after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The sole survivor policy was enacted by the Department of Defense after five sons from one family were killed in combat.
That rule changed the military path of a veteran celebrating his 100th birthday on Saturday, June 19.
The Sullivan boys of Iowa enlisted in the Navy together, and died together when their ship went down in the South Pacific.
The tragedy and other similar stories led to the government mandating that only two male members of a family could serve at the same time.
That ruling came just as the four Wai brothers were set to enlist. Francis and Robert Wai joined the Army and brother Conkling served in the Army Corps of Engineers. That left the youngest, Lambert unable to join his brothers in military service.
“I was disappointed because you know, you want to fight for your country, got two brothers in there already,” said Lambert Wai.
After Francis was killed in action in the Philippines in 1944, Lambert finally entered the Army in the deployment of military personnel services as a staff sergeant.
“There were a lot of Chinese Americans that served,” said Lambert. “I’m very proud of my brother who received the medal of honor.”
Brother Francis Brown Wai received the Medal of Honor for heroic action, and now, on his 100th birthday, Lambert gets an honor of his own.
“I’m deeply honored to present this Congressional Gold Medal to Chinese-American veterans of WWII,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee. “Thank you for your service and your entire family during WWII.”
Chinese-American veterans of WWII are set to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington this fall, but illness and injury will keep Lambert close to home, so the medal was brought to him.
“We’re very proud of Uncle Lambert for his service in the war, the service of his brothers, for what it means to us today,” said great grandnephew Brent Wilson. “And the heritage passed on to us.”
A local ceremony is scheduled for late September for Hawaii Chinese-American veterans who cannot travel to the Congressional Gold Medal presentation in our nation’s capital.