HONOLULU (KHON2) — There were more than 20,000 Chinese-Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII, and fewer than 100 were nominated to receive the Bronze Star, one of the highest military honors awarded to combat veterans.

It took one generation for the Hee Family of Waimea, Kauai to move from the plantation to full citizenship. It took son Gilbert Hee, 25 months to land at Normandy, sweep through Germany to rescue concentration camp prisoners and witness the trials at Nuremberg.

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But it took the government 75 years to recognize his meritorious combat service to this country. The 96-year-old Army Tech Sergeant Gilbert Hong Hin Hee was set to be awarded the Bronze Star and Congressional Gold Medal but died at this Hawaii Kai home, just one day before the ceremony.

“He was looking forward to it and just happened he died the night before,” said Ethel Hee, wife of Gilbert Hee.

Of more than 20,000 Chinese-Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII, fewer than 100 were nominated to receive the Bronze Star.

Gilbert Hee was one of four Hawaii Chinese-American WWII veterans to receive the Bronze Star. The Chinese-American Citizens’ Alliance held recognition ceremonies across the country and in our nation’s capital last year for the nearly recognized 3,000 veterans.

With COVID waning, it was time for Gilbert to receive his medals.

“He was so quiet about it. He is very humble. He was very humble and we were all proud of him, very much so,” said Ethel Hee.

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Major General Robert Lee of the U.S. Army spoke on why the combat veterans are being honored.

“The Chinese-American WWWII veterans along with 16 million other Americans during that troubled time saved America and saved the world,” said Lee.