A tribute to a Chinese-AmericanBy Gregg K. Kakesako
flier from Palama will benefit
UH ROTC cadets
Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Wau Kau Kong was only 25 when he flew his 14th and final mission over Germany on Feb. 22, 1944.
As the military's first Chinese-American fighter pilot, Kong is described as "a guy with a lot of charisma" by Mun Charn Wong, a fellow McKinley High School and University of Hawaii graduate, who has spent the past 55 years perpetuating Kong's memory.
Several organizations will join together tonight to pay tribute to the World War II 353rd Fighter Squadron pilot with a $100-plate dinner at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel.
The money raised will be used to maintain a computer lab at UH-Manoa for ROTC cadets.
Lt. Col. William Coode, commander of the 100-cadet AFROTC unit, said "We wanted to do something that was beneficial for the cadets and which is something more than just a war memorial."
Four computers, printers, scanners and a security system were purchased with part of the money already raised by Wong and other friends of Kong.
Coode said part of the computer lab will be set aside as a memorial to Kong.
"The cadets will not only have computers and Internet access -- which today is considered essential -- to help them in their school work," Coode said, "but also there will be memorabilia there of this war hero who went through ROTC at the UH."
"He (Kong) had a great zest for living and was loved by many people," said Wong, who graduated with Kong from McKinley High School in 1936 and served with him in UH's Army ROTC unit, receiving their second lieutenant bars four years later.
Since 1949, Wong, an insurance executive, has worked quietly to keep Kong's memory alive: first by starting a scholarship program with his UH fraternity -- Peng Hui -- and later through the University of Hawaii Foundation.
Currently, the university AFROTC program continues that tradition by awarding $2,500 scholarships annually to four or five outstanding cadets from Hawaii.
Born and raised in Palama, Kong was one of five children of Yim and Mary Shee Kong.
Wong said as a research chemist for the U.S. government Kong could have avoided being called to combat duty. Instead, Kong chose to volunteer for the Army Air Corps and because of his high entrance exam was accepted into the aviation cadet training program.
On Oct. 23, 1943, Kong boarded a convoy bound for England and assignment to the 353rd Fighter Squadron of the 354th Fighter Group. He was assigned to a new and powerful aircraft -- a P-51B Mustang, which he named "Chinaman's Chance" on one side of the cowling and "No Tickee-No Washee" on the other.
During an interview with an Army public relations officer in 1943, Kong mentioned a few things to spice up his reputation since at that point he still hadn't scored any victories.
Kong told the Army officer: "You could announce that Kong is without question the handsomest pilot in the ETO (European Theater of Operations)."
When Kong bagged his first kill it made Time magazine in its Feb. 28, 1944 edition.
Wong said he was devastated when he learned of his friend's death.
He had been promoted to captain and had sent Kong his old silver first lieutenant bars as a symbol of their friendship.
But the package came back unopened, marked "Return to sender, addressee deceased."
After V-E Day in 1945 while waiting to be sent back to Hawaii, Wong decided to try to find out what happened to his friend.
With permission from his commanding officer, a Jeep and a translator, Wong drove to Blomberg, Germany, using tips gathered from various military officers. There he found the caretaker of a cemetery who said the body had been moved to the American Cemetery in Holland.
The mayor of Blomberg suggested Wong visit a village north of town where by accident Wong found a schoolteacher who had witnessed Kong's last dogfight.
"I ran into this person on the road," Wong said. "It was sheer fate."
The teacher led Wong into the mountains where Kong's Mustang had crashed. Kong's plane had cut the tree in half, but a stump remained. Wong's remains were later shipped from Holland to the National Cemetery of the Pacific in a spot overlooking the neighborhood where he grew up.