World War II Translator Denied U.S. Veteran Status

6.09.2011

TranslatorHere’s an interesting Denver Post  article on John Yee, who as a young man in China during World War II, served as a translator to Claire Lee Chennault and the 1st American Volunteer Group, the aviation legends who became famously known as the Flying Tigers: WWII Chinese translator denied U.S. veterans status but says record speaks for itself.

Now 89, Yee is a retired high school teacher living in Colorado, and one of the last men alive today to have served with Chennault and the original Flying Tigers. However, despite having served on a secret mission for the United States, he’s never been officially recognized as a U.S. veteran.

In 1991, the Department of Defense announced that anyone who helped defeat the Japanese through service in the AVG was eligible to apply for veterans status.

Yee’s request was denied, however, because while he has letters from Chennault and other officers, his Flying Tigers pin and other proof of his service, the Air Force determined Yee was missing key paperwork — namely, documentation that he was employed by the same company that paid the Americans or an honorable discharge from the AVG.

Yee’s situation makes it unclear whether such documents exist, either here or in China. Even U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s office — which contacted the Air Force on Yee’s behalf — has been unable to find them.

The denial means that while he helped the AVG turn back the Japanese, attended AVG reunions for years and once served as president of the Colorado chapter of the China Burma India Veterans Association, Yee has never collected veterans benefits, isn’t eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs health care, and won’t receive military honors when he dies.

That sucks. Largely because the government’s refusal to acknowledge Yee as a veteran seems to come down to a pesky piece of paperwork. That means he has never collected veterans benefits, isn’t eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs health care, and won’t receive military honors when he dies. But after all this time, Yee seems resigned to his situation.