Winston Ho 何嶸.
University of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.
2018 Sep. 17, Monday.
[Chalmette National Cemetery. Photograph by Winston Ho, 2018.]
Chalmette National Cemetery 夏梅國家公墓 in Louisiana, downriver from New Orleans, was established in May of 1864, originally as a place of interment for Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. The cemetery is located behind the former British lines at the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. To this day, most of the estimated 16,000 burials there belong to Union soldiers who died at various battles and posts throughout the Gulf Coast region (Confederate soldiers were buried at Greenwood Cemetery and other local cemeteries.) However, many more military burials were made at Chalmette after the Civil War, including four reburials of veterans from the War of 1812, and soldiers from every U.S. war up to the Vietnam War. Among these burials are three American sailors of East Asian ancestry.
[Headstone for Tokichi Yokohata.]
Tokichi Yokohata (1876 → 1918) (sec. 158, no. 12749) served in the First World War. He appears in the 1910 census as a cook aboard the USS Montana, a cruiser (1910 U.S. Census, line 86). The census schedule indicates that he was 34 years-old in 1910, single, and that he was a native of Japan. He would have been around 42 years-old when he died.
The census also indicates that he was one of three natives of Japan aboard the Montana. Isai Watanabe (1877 → unknown) (1910 U.S. Census, line 84), single, age 33, is listed as the captain’s steward (cleaning and food preparation). A seaman Omura (1877 → unknown) (1910 U.S. Census, line 83), single, age 33, is listed as the captain’s cook. We have no further records for when Yokohata joined the U.S. Navy, whether all three men served together on the same ship throughout the First World War, or how seaman Yokohata died.
[Chalmette, section 158.] [Chalmette Database Listing for Tokichi Yokohata.] [1910 Census, USS Montana]
Pedro Foresca (unknown → 1939) (sec. 163, no. 14044) died between the two world wars. According to his headstone, he was a native of the Philippines, and he was a mess attendant second-class (kitchen worker) aboard the USS Bridgeport, a destroyer tender. We currently have no further information about when or where he was born, how long he had been in the Navy, whether he had served on other ships, or how he died.
[Headstone for Pedro Foresca.]
As with Foresca and Yokohata, we have limited knowledge of the presence of East Asian soldiers and sailors in the U.S. military before the Second World War. Nearly all of these men were enlistedmen serving as cooks and servants, not officers. So far, none are known to have recorded their experiences in writing. However, East Asians are often mentioned in passing in books, diaries, crew manifests, and other records.
East Asian sailors had served aboard Western civilian and military ships since the 1500s, when Spanish and Portuguese galleons supplemented their crews with locals from their colonies in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Ethnic Chinese from South East Asia and Guangdong Province had served aboard British ships since at least the 1700s. Thus, ethnic Chinese had been serving aboard U.S. ships since before the U.S. gained its independence. Such sailors may have been some of the earliest Asians to arrive in North America, though perhaps only a few settled in the United States before the twentieth-century. Japan was closed to the West between 1635 and 1853, but by the late 1800s, Japanese sailors were also serving aboard American ships. By then, great numbers of Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, and other people of East Asian ancestry were living along the Pacific Coast and Hawaii, and some of them also began serving aboard civilian ships and in the U.S. Navy.
[Chalmette, section 163.] [Chalmette Database Listing for Pedro Foresca.]
We do not know when East Asians began serving in the U.S. Army, though we do know that a handful of Chinese served as riflemen and cooks in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. The Cantonese had been in California since the late 1840s, where many had been employed as laundrymen and cooks for mining and construction projects, even before the Chinese were employed as railroad builders in the 1860s. A large group of Chinese Mexicans served the U.S. Army with distinction as cooks, servants, and guides during the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in 1917, then as military construction workers in the First World War. Most of this group of “Pershing’s Chinese” eventually settled in San Antonio, becoming some of the first Chinese to settle in Texas.
By the start of the twentieth-century, Chinese, Filipinos, and other East Asians had become a common sight in the kitchens of U.S. bases, and in the galleys of American ships. Spain was forced to surrender the Philippines to the United States in 1898, and the Philippines became an American territory. After this, local Filipinos were often employed as cooks and stewards in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army. Officers serving in the Philippines were often assigned Filipino enlistedmen as servants. Likewise, after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900s, U.S. developed a permanent military presence in several Chinese cities and ports, where local Chinese were employed as cooks and stewards. The cost of labor in East Asia was so low that American enlistedmen serving there often hired their own personal servant, who cooked, washed laundry, cut hair, and performed other services.
So, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to see Tokichi Yokohata and Pedro Foresca in Chalmette National Cemetery, and there may be servicemen of East Asian ancestry interred at every American military cemetery before the Second World War. In the early twentieth-century, East Asians were trained to perform ever more sophisticated tasks. In the U.S. Merchant Marines, Chinese were often trained as machinists and technicians, serving aboard civilian ships under American officers. But in the U.S. military, East Asians were rarely allowed to serve in any task other than as cooks or stewards, and commissioned officers of Asian ancestry were almost unknown. However, the Second World War changed everything.
[Headstone for David Chin-Bing.]
David Benjamin Chin-Bing (1917 → 1944) (sec. 46A, no. 13179) was born and raised in New Orleans. He was a former basketball star at Warren East High School, and he was an undergraduate at Louisiana State University when the Pearl Harbor attack took place. Afterward, he dropped out of LSU and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy reserves. He was trained as a dive-bomber pilot and was assigned to Navy Bomber Squadron 7. Chin-Bing may have been the first pilot of Chinese ancestry in the U.S. Navy. He served one tour of duty in the South Pacific in the New Georgia Campaign, but was killed in the United States while attempting an emergency landing in bad weather. Chin-Bing held the rank of Lieutenant Junior-grade at the time of his death and was posthumously awarded an Air Medal.
Chin-Bing’s story is different from Foresca or Yokohata for several reasons. He was an American-citizen, born in the United States. He was a college student and an officer. We know a great deal about his personal history because his military career was covered by the local Times-Picayune newspaper, which described him as a hometown hero. And most importantly, the Second World War was a different kind of war.
[Chalmette, section 46A.] [Chalmette Database Listing for David Chin-Bing.] [Ensign David Chin-Bing, 1942] [“Orleans Chinese Flier is Feted.” Times-Picayune (1943 Sep. 9): p. 36.]
More than any previous American war, this was a battle against international racism, and both China and the Philippines were American allies in that battle. At the same time, this was a total war, and the entire population of the United States, regardless of race, was mobilized to fight it. Furthermore, East Asians had been living in North America for nearly a century before the war began, and there was now a large population of American-born citizens of Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese ancestry, who were eager to fight alongside other Americans in defending their country. For all these reasons, the Second World War represents a fundamental shift in the place of people of East Asian ancestry in the U.S. military, and all military assignments have been open to East Asians and Asian Americans ever since.
[Chalmette, Section 42A, Tomb of LTJG David Chin-Bing. Photograph by Winston Ho, 2018.]
Chalmette National Cemetery official website (part of the Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve). https://www.nps.gov/jela/chalmette-national-cemetery.htm and https://www.nps.gov/jela/chalmette-national-cemetery-frequently-asked-questions.htm
Chalmette National Cemetery official brochure, 2012. https://www.nps.gov/jela/upload/CHAL-cemetery-site-bulletin-May-2012-for-website.pdf and https://www.nps.gov/jela/upload/Chalmette%20National%20Cemeteryupdated.pdf
“NOLA 300: Memories of wars past at Chalmette National Cemetery.” WGNO-TV, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0qbIZJ5un0 [David Chin-Bing appears at 1:01].
Kirkham, Chris. “Historic Chalmette National Cemetery returning to life.” Times-Picayune (2009 Dec. 21). https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/article_34e4c35e-3a1f-5926-9231-707efe41fff2.html
Pompilio, Natalie. “Volunteers bring back names of dead in Chalmette cemetery restoration project.” New Orleans Advocate (2016 Mar. 17). https://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/by_st_bernard_bureau_as.html
“Two Objectives Beckoning Ensign David Chin-Bing.” Times-Picayune (1942 Dec. 10): p. 12.
“Orleans Chinese Flier is Feted.” Times-Picayune (1943 Sep. 9): p. 36.
“Rites for Orleans Flier Set Today.” Times-Picayune (1944 May 15): p. 3.
Rhoads, Edward J.M, “The Chinese in Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly vol. 81, no. 1 (1977 Jul.): p. 18-29.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Veterans Fact Sheet. Department of Veterans Affairs, Center for Minority Veterans, 2013. https://www.va.gov/centerforminorityveterans/docs/factSheetAanhpiInDepth.pdf
“Asian-Americans & Pacific Islanders in the United States Army.” U.S. Army official website. https://www.army.mil/asianpacificamericans/history/
Akers, Regina T. “Asian Americans in the U.S. Military with an emphasis on the U.S. Navy.” U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, 2013 (updated in 2017). https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/diversity/asian-americans-pacific-islanders-in-the-navy/asian-americans-us-military.html
Reza, H.G. “Navy to Stop Recruiting Filipino Nationals.” Los Angeles Times (1992 Feb. 27). http://articles.latimes.com/1992-02-27/local/me-3911_1_filipino-sailors
[Among the East Asian soldiers and military and civilian sailors who settled in New Orleans before the Second World War are:
Felipe Madriaga, native of Luzon in the Philippines, former sailor aboard a passenger ship, settled in New Orleans in 1846, fisherman in Louisiana, one of the first Filipinos to raise a family in the state;
Jee Sun Young “J.S. Young” 朱雙掁 (c. 1880 → 1935), native of Kaiping (Hoiping) county in Guangdong province, lived in California before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, sailor aboard several ships, including the battleship USS Oregon in the Spanish-American War, settled in New Orleans after 1899, owned several successful laundries and other businesses in New Orleans;
Ng La Sin, native of Guangdong province, lived in California before enlisting in the U.S. Army, served in the First World War, settled in New Orleans in 1918, member of the first graduating class of Delgado College, founder of the Gend Wah Macaroni Company in New Orleans.]
[There’s an interesting story for how I learned about the three sailors in Chalmette National Cemetery. I have known about Chin-Bing’s tomb since I began studying the history of the Chinese in New Orleans. His tragic death is frequently mentioned in the records of the Chinese Presbyterian Church. Last year, I was approached by Elizabeth Neidenbach from the National Park Service to assist in one of their projects. After informing her about Chin-Bing’s presence in Chalmette, she checked the NPS records and discovered that Tokichi Yokohata was also buried there. Last week, I went back to Chalmette to take a photograph of Yokohata’s tomb. While visiting the Chalmette Battlefield visitor center, I unexpectedly discovered Pedro Foresca in a binder full of records from the cemetery.
Finally, it is significant that African Americans before the Second World War were also commonly assigned as cooks and stewards in the military. The U.S. Army allowed Asian Americans and African Americans to serve in combat roles, but the U.S. Navy was infamous for restricting the ratings available to non-Whites, though more more people from Asia probably served in the Navy than in the Army. While Army cooks could rise to the rank of sergeant, Navy cooks were not petty officers before the Second World War. “Mess attendant second-class” ranked lower than other enlistedmen and were paid less. As with Asian Americans, wartime conditions and the dire need for more personnel compelled both the Army and Navy to temporarily assign African Americans to tasks with greater responsibilities and higher rank, a policy change which became permanent after the war.]