The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Kurt Chew-Een Lee
 

“In our sector there was an almost eerie silence. Nobody knew where the enemy was. I could sense palpable fear amongst the Marines…" (Video interview, 58:52).

   Kurt Chew-Een Lee
Image of Kurt Chew-Een Lee
Kurt Lee during his interview at the Library of Congress [6/24/2010]
War: World War, 1939-1945; Korean War, 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Marine Corps; Marine Corps; Marine Corps
Unit: Headquarters and Service Battalion Schools Regiment; Company B, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 7th Marine Regiment; G-2 Section, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Amphibious Force
Service Location: San Diego, Vallejo, and Camp Pendleton, California; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Quantico, Virginia; China; Philadelphia; also: Korea; also: Little Creek, Virginia; Hawaii; Vietnam
Rank: Sergeant; Major
View Full Description

Determined to serve his country during World War II, Kurt Chew-Een Lee joined the Marine Corps in 1944 at the age of 18. He expected to ship out to the Pacific Theater following boot camp, but was instead assigned to a stateside Japanese language school. Following World War II, Lee was disappointed to have missed the chance to serve in combat, and opted to pursue a career in the military. Becoming the first Asian-American to serve as a regular officer in the United States Marine Corps, he further distinguished himself through his heroism on the battlefield during the Korean War: while leading a platoon at Inchon, Lee’s unit was attacked by Chinese forces. Directing his men to establish a defensive line, he advanced alone in order to provoke the enemy to open fire and reveal their positions. Taking fire from nearby Chinese forces, he called out to them in Mandarin, “Don’t shoot! I’m Chinese!” His American accent gave him away, and the attack continued. Lee was wounded, but his actions saved his men, and he was awarded the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (170 min.)
 Official Documents
»Silver Star Commendation for 1st Lt. Kurt C. Lee
More like this
»VHP 15th Anniversary
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Reasons for choosing the Marines; liked the history and traditions of the branch; expected to ship out to Pacific; was pulled from going overseas with his unit so that he could attend Japanese language school; only Asian in his class; most Chinese Americans avoided Marines; saw himself as following in long tradition of Chinese warriors. (05:39) Hit by Chinese at midnight; recovered lost position; 1st platoon position breached by the enemy; all hell broke loose; cacophony of sounds; then, suddenly, everything ceased. (03:41) Deciding to move forward alone in an attempt to provoke enemy to give away location; firing his BAR; creating impression of more than one person; hearing voices; shouting in Chinese; attacked. (08:49)
Wounded in previous battle; in hospital; anxious to get back to company; liberated jeep to return to position; thought he was being chased by officers; nearly wrecking jeep. (04:21) Going into battle in a blizzard; testing snow for crevasses; legs felt like blocks of lead; enemy broke and ran; pride in his men. (08:23) Being wounded a second time; evacuated to aid station; extreme cold. (02:34)
Many Marines suffered frostbite, gangrene due to lack of training; his unit was adequately clothed; footgear was a problem. (02:11) Treated differently because he was Asian; working harder to overcome this; very reserved nature. (00:56) 
  
 

Home » Kurt Chew-Een Lee
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us