Following World War II, a man named David Woo created Cathay Post #186 as a hub for returning Chinese-American veterans. Now the group is celebrating its 70th anniversary and honoring its Chinese World War II vets who are quickly passing.
The anniversary will take place in the form of a luncheon on August 24.
“Senior members wanted to do something special,” explained Lloyd Hara, a Cathay Post member and 70th anniversary organizer. “Unfortunate thing is some of them are very ill and can’t make it.”
The oldest member of the Post is 99 year-old Gene Moy. All in all, there are approximately 20 members who are WWII veterans.
During the luncheon, there will be recognition of scholarship winners, community leader speeches, and a special preview of a documentary on the Cathay Post.
Over the course of 2015, the International Examiner and OCA-Greater Seattle worked together filming interviews with surviving Cathay Post WWII veterans. These will be used in the one-hour documentary being created by Tuyen Kim Tuyen, a media producer and videographer at Highline College. Ron Chew—president of the International Examiner board of directors, and ICHS Foundation director—has also been helping create the series.
While the anniversary is definitely a deserved moment of celebration, it is also a reminder that membership is dwindling as people grow older.
“One of the issues, especially for a Post like this which primarily was started by Chinese-Americans,” Hara said, “is since the draft, since Vietnam, very few Chinese-Americans have gone on active duty or volunteered. … So as a consequence, it decreases your pool of potential applicants.”
Indeed, even though the Post has 50 members, only approximately 10 of them are regulars. What’s more, their youngest member is in their middle- to late-50s.
“But, ya know, we’re gonna try,” Hara contended. “The post has been around for 70 years and has done a lot of good for the community over the years, and I think that’s an important element of ensuring the Post continues on.”
In fact, Cathay Post #186 has given scholarships to high school students and needy veterans. They’ve also done parades, spaghetti feeds, and pretty much anything else they can do to bring the community together. They even contributed $100,000 to the Wing Luke Museum in 2007.
The Post also holds a Memorial Day program every year, honoring the 10 Chinese Americans from Seattle who gave their lives during World War II. They place wreaths on the Chinese American war memorial in Hing Hay Park.
While there are approximately 95 Posts within 100 miles of Seattle, it hasn’t always been that way, and they weren’t always inclusive.
Woo, the Post’s founder, was an aerial gunner pilot who was shot down in Germany during WWII. He served more than two years in German prison camps and eventually returned to Seattle. He found he wasn’t really welcome at other Posts where discrimination and racism prevented Asian American veterans from joining.
So Woo created Cathay Post #186, and he helped other returning Chinese-American veterans petition for their wives in China to join their husbands on U.S. soil. It was a time when, after WWII, men and women in their 20s had common experiences impacted or directly parallelling wartime. They were just starting out their life careers, and the Post was one way of getting to know each other for social bonds and support.
“At that time, it was very, very important for a lot of the young Chinese-Americans that came back to get re-acclimated back into civilian life,” Hara said. “So the Post played an important role during that transition.”
Initially, however, fellow Korean and Vietnamese veterans weren’t yet included in #186, although they are now. But despite the step to include more communities into the Post, it’s still a topic of struggle because its roots are so strong.
“I think there has been an element that always felt the Post should be a Chinese American Post,” Hara said. “Part of it is, if you really wanna grow, you have to get out of that mode, quite frankly, because that isn’t where the veterans are.”
Because the Post operates under the American Legion, members have to be veterans, but if its membership keeps dwindling, the same umbrella organization can deactivate the Post.
But age isn’t the only thing holding Cathay Post #186 back. Donations are also a struggle.
There’s also the fact that of the American Legion Posts that seem to be doing okay, many are located in small communities like the one in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. In those cases, the Posts are one of the more social places in town out of a small number of options. Compare that to the smorgasbord of social activities in Seattle, and it makes a Post like #186 drown in the noise of options.
Plus many more veterans or active-duty men and women are Filipino and Southeast Asians, according to Hara.
“So you have to be moving in that direction,” he said. “And the irony is, they used to have a Filipino Post that was fostered by WWII vets, and they’ve disbanded because all the members died basically. And hopefully we don’t go the same way.”
He proposed forming some alliances with other people and other groups to make it work.
But “the most important thing is preserving our legacy,” said Post Commander Jack Pang last year.
Since Cathay Post #186 members may begin to feel forgotten as time goes on—in part due to the inevitability of aging, but by no means a reason that should dictate the Post’s extinction—the community should do something about it.
A special luncheon to honor Cathay Post #186’s World War II members and celebrate their 70th Anniversary happens on August 24. The event happens at Palisade (Elliott Bay Marina) 2601 West Marina Place; Seattle, WA 98199 on August 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Cost is $110/person. (This includes a full course meal: Soup/salad, Prime Rib, King Salmon; or Organic Braised Chicken; choice of deserts and a glass of wine which covers the actual cost of the meal.) To register, contact Lloyd Hara at [email protected] or (206) 283-9681. Provide your name, address, phone, email, and the number of any additional guests and their names. Make out the check to: Cathay Post #186 and mail to: Lloyd Hara, 466 Smith St. Seattle, WA 98109. Registration must be received by August 19.