Monday, September 8, 2014

4. 'It is a very tuff unit, I believe'

PFC Fong Sing wrote my dad from the Springfield, Ill., State Fairgrounds, where he had been sent to further his training.
After completing Officer Candidate School at Fort Riley, Kans., my father, now Lt. Charles M. Pride, went for ten weeks to tank maintenance school at Fort Knox, Ky. There my mother joined him. The following letter was written to him later by PFC Fong Sing, a Chinese-American soldier who also trained at the fort and met my parents there.

What is remarkable to me in thinking about the letter is how unremarkable it was in 1943 America that soldiers of Chinese descent were segregated within the Army. In a letter near the end of the war, when my father was a motor pool officer, he referred to the men who washed the vehicles as “my Chinks.” Acceptable lingo in his world, not in ours. We have yet to banish all the prejudices about race and ethnicity from our culture, but at least we have made progress.

Records on the web indicate that a Fong Y. Sing, Chinese-born but a U.S. citizen, enlisted in the Army on Sept. 5, 1942, and later made PFC. He was born on Aug. 10, 1912, and died on May 6, 1981, in Calverton, N.Y., where he is buried. Whether this is the same Fong Sing who wrote my father I do not know.

The stationery on which Fong Sing wrote to Dad included his picture and rank. He wrote the letter from the State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill., where Chinese and Chinese-American soldiers trained at an Army Air Force supply depot.

Richard Wong was a 407th bugler in Springfield.
An Aug. 14, 2014, story in the Illinois State Journal gave a brief history from the paper’s archives about the Chinese-Americans, who, even if they were citizens, were referred to as Chinese. One archival story, published May 6, 1943, covered the soldiers’ first night of liberty in the Illinois capital:

“Many Springfield residents paused and stared as they saw the lads sauntering down streets of the business district,” the paper reported. “But the soldiers were accepted without much comment. ‘They’re very polite and well-behaved,’ was the opinion of one observer.”

That fall the soldiers marched during the halftime show at a local high school football game. They also went to a dance for which Chinese-American women were imported from Chicago as dance partners. And they were invited to an exhibit of Chinese art at a local museum.

The men, who comprised the 407th Service Squadron, left Springfield in January 1944 for Patterson Field in Ohio. Eventually they served in China and Burma.

When PFC Fong Sing wrote to my father, Dad was stationed in Oregon. Among other things, he took a three-week course as a swimming instructor. He was a good swimmer, a skill that came in handy later when he was sent to the Pacific Theater,

Here is the letter:
                                                                                      25 Nov. 43

Dear Lt. Pride,

I am very sorry to miss you and you are getting all right. I am getting much better in my language and thank you and your wife very much. I have no trouble to make friends over here. Everyone is Chinese and we are all friendly.

We have approximately seven hundred Chinese soldiers of the United States Army in this unit. They divided into different classes, according to the men who came in soon or later. We are very busy studying and training. I am assured that I will have a lot of chances to go back to China after finishing the trainings in certain period. It is a very tuff unit, I believe.

Our group has not begun yet because we have to have certain amount of men before they begin to train us. I am assured we will start in a very short time.

I want to write a letter to a Captain but I am very sorry forgot his name. Please say hello to him for me.

Thanks again to both of you and your wife.
                                                                                  Sincerely yours,
                                                                                  Fong Sing

Next: Guarding the coast 


  1. dad never talked about being friends with any Asian he wouldn't even eat rice for god sakes

    1. You're right, Rob. But maybe he was a little more tolerant BEFORE he went to the Pacific Theater. Also, I'm thinking there's a reason Fong Sing mentions Mom, who would do anything for anyone she perceived to be in need. Also -- shocker! -- late in life Dad road with me in my Toyota Camry and remarked with surprise, delight and admiration about how quiet the car was.

      Thanks for reading, Bro. More to come.