A Landmark for a Landmark

June 23, 2021

The Kimlau War Memorial located in Kimlau Square in Manhattan’s Chinatown was approved and designated a landmark by the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission this week. This is the first landmark recognizing Chinese American history in New York.

The monument was designed by architect Poy Gum Lee who combined, as described by the Landmarks Commission, “traditional Chinese design with a streamlined modern aesthetic”. It was proudly dedicated on April 28, 1962 and was a gift from the American Legion Lieutenant B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 headquartered on Canal Street. The Post had over 450 members who served in World War II and the monument honored Chinese Americans who lost their lives in military service. Over 20,000, or 1 in 5 Chinese men and women living in the US at that time served proudly during WWII despite The Chinese Exclusion Act which denied immigration and citizenship rights for people of Chinese descent until 1944. Sadly, most of the WWII veterans have passed, but in 2018, Congress unanimously approved and President Trump signed the law issuing a Congressional Gold Medal to honor Chinese Americans WWII Veterans. Not to be forgotten, however, are the Chinese Americans who have served and lost their lives in the US military since the War of 1812, including The Civil War, World War I, The Korean War, Vietnam War and conflicts to this day.

The Monument and the Post is named after Second Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau who was born in Concord, Massachusetts and moved to New York when he was 14. He attended Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and the Pennsylvania Military College, now the US Army War College. In the Army he transferred from the Field Artillery Division to the Army Air Force where he attended flight school and became a bomber pilot. During a mission to bomb the Japanese rear line at Los Negros Island next to New Guinea he and four other pilots were shot down. Their unit, the 380th Bombardment Group earned two Presidential Citations.

Members of the American Legion in Chinatown were truly part of the Greatest Generation, from members such as Peter Woo who established the iconic building headquarters on Canal Street to their volunteer leadership in community service way before any city agencies offered any help. Currently, for example, Past Commander Tony Chuy a master martial artist is teaching free self-defense classes for the community in light of the attacks against Asian Americans. Current Commander Honorable Judge Randall Eng, Adjutant Gabe Mui and former National Commander Fang A. Wong testified at the Landmarks Preservation hearing along with Sons of American Legion Commander David Lee and LAANY Board Member Shirley Ng to help get this passed.

To this day the monument serves as a place for several ceremonies annually honoring our veterans and their service. It also serves as a memorial and an important reminder that Asian Americans are Very American not only giving their time and money but their lives as well for the country they love.

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Founder of LAANY League of Asian Americans of New York

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David Lee

David Lee

Founder of LAANY League of Asian Americans of New York

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