I asked my Dad what he was doing on Memorial Day, and he said that he was attending a Memorial Day commemoration for Veterans. I wasn’t surprised, as he was a 20 year Navy Veteran. One thing I’d like to do on Memorial Day is see Uncommon Courage: Breakout at Chosin. This documentary, debuting on the Smithsonian Channel on this Memorial Day, features Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the first Chinese-American commissioned as a US Marine. Lee, in addition to battling prejudice, led 500 Marines through hilly country in a blizzard to enable the breakout of 8,000 surrounded U.S. and U.N. troops. While he won a Navy Cross for his efforts and saved the 8,000 troops from certain capture or death, the documentary says his greatest accomplishment may have been changing attitudes toward Asian-Americans.
Lee was put in the position of being a Chinese-American fighting against Chinese troops. In the trailer, Lee acknowledges that soldiers had issues with his ethnicity, but in this Washington Post interview, Lee downplays this. Lee accomplished his march in 30 degrees below zero weather, at night, and with a broken arm. “He was ferocious,” says Lt. Joseph R. Owen who served alongside Lee. “Certainly, I was never afraid,” Lee says. “Perhaps the Chinese are all fatalists. I never expected to survive the war. So I was adamant that my death be honorable, be spectacular.”
Lee enlisted to counter the stereotype of the “meek, obsequious, bland Asian.” His one regret was telling his mother that he enlisted only on the day before he was to leave. “She did not say anything when I told her. Not a single word. But I could tell by her face she was totally crushed.”
This documentary sounds fascinating, but I won’t be able to see this on Memorial Day as my cable company doesn’t carry the Smithsonian Channel. If you do see it, let us know what you think.