In 1996, the United States Congress ordered a new look at the stories of Asian American soldiers to see if any were passed up for appropriate medals. As a result, in 2000, Frances Wai’s Distinguished Service Cross medal was upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Wai was a noted athlete who was killed in action the Philippines in 1944. I thought it appropriate to remember Captain Francis Wai on US Memorial Day as someone who was the exact opposite of so many Asian American male stereotypes.
First, Wai was an impressive athlete. Contrary to the image of the unathletic Asian American male, he began surfed with the legendary Duke Kahanamoku and Olympian and actor Buster Crabbe. At UCLA, he was on four teams – football, basketball, track, and Rugby, and even played quarterback. UCLA added him to its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.
Next, he was a leader. Contrary to the stereotype that Asian Americans cannot lead, Wai assumed command of leaderless and disorganized troops in the Philippines into an effective fighting force. He led by example, advancing without cover to draw machine gun fire, which exposed Japanese force locations.
Finally, he was a loyal and patriotic American. Contrary to the assumptions that Asian Americans are disloyal, Wai joined the National Guard. After majoring in Banking and Finance at UCLA, his initial plan was to work with his father in real estate and banking, but he changed his plans after the outbreak of WWII.
Wai died while assaulting the last Japanese Pillbox in the area where he had organized troops. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.