The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented Chinese from entering the country, becoming citizens or voting. My grandfather was able to enter because of an exemption for restaurant workers.

My father, Eugene Yoke Gim Lee, left Hoi San, China in 1938 at the age of 16 to join my grandfather in Boston. They later moved to New York City together. On March 23, 1943, my father enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force. The army sent him to motor repair school in Michigan where he trained in airplane and engine mechanics. He graduated with the rank of Sergeant and was sent off to the European theater where he would, “keep them flying.” He was assigned to the 9th Army Air Force and stationed at the 7th Depot Repair Group in England and then France.

For his service, his petition to become a naturalized American citizen was granted at the U.S. Embassy in London on July 18, 1944, after the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed.

Upon his return to New York, Dad was offered a mechanics job at Kennedy Airport but felt the commute was too far from Manhattan. So, he opened a laundry instead. He moved to Maspeth in 1958 and his children attended JHS 73 and Grover Cleveland High School. The small business was enough to put his 4 children through college and graduate school; two went to law school.

In 2018, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law a Congressional Gold Medal recognizing the 20,000 (20% of the population) Chinese WW2 veterans like him who served.
Eugene Lee is in the second row, fifth from the left.