Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Maria K. John

Second Advisor

Peter Kiang

Third Advisor

Bonnie Miller


“Celebrating Chinese American Veterans” explores the intricate relationship between America’s collective memory of war, the absence and/or presence of Chinese American veterans within these historical narratives, and how this collective memory of war has, in recent decades, adapted to become more inclusive of minority veterans. Chinese Americans have fought in every major American conflict since the Civil War, including during World War II when over 20,000 were in uniform. Yet, these veterans’ stories were largely ignored and forgotten until the mid-1990s when some dedicated researchers brought them to the forefront through extensive archival research and hundreds of personal interviews. Although some background information is necessary, the purpose of this thesis is not to discover more unknown or forgotten veterans nor to uncover any more details about their lives. Instead, this thesis aims to use these stories to understand how they fit into the larger historiography of American military history and to unravel the decades-long process which made such commemoration possible. In addition, it will consider the intertwined relationship between race, commemoration, and national identity.

In writing this thesis, I chose to focus specifically on the Chinese American experience (as opposed to a broader Asian American experience, although I will use that term occasionally) for a couple of reasons. First, “Asian American” is a broad term that also includes Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, and other ethnic groups who have had vastly different experiences in the context of their historic role in the U.S. military. The term “Asian American” will only be used in reference to shared experiences in the Vietnam War era and afterward. Second, it is my personal belief that the historic role of Chinese Americans in the U.S. military has been overlooked in both scholarly and popular forms of literature and public history spaces and would have continued this way if it were not for the historians and other researchers involved in bringing these stories to the forefront during the 1990s. Ultimately, this thesis will demonstrate how the commemoration of veterans can shape a nation’s collective memory of war and help to redefine a nation’s identity.


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