Former Private 1st Class Randall Ching was with the 5th Ranger Battalion in the hellscape that was Omaha Beach during the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings in Normandy. At 97 years old, he is about to receive his second Congressional Gold Medal.
Ching, the only person of Chinese descent among the nearly 7,000 Rangers who served in that war, received the medal for the first time when President Donald Trump in 2018 signed the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act to honor the estimated 20,000 Chinese American men and women who served in all of the military branches.
"At the time, it never occurred to me that I was the only Chinese Ranger but, looking back now, I'm very proud," Ching would later tell the Marin Independent Journal in California.
His second medal -- one of the highest honors from Congress -- will be bestowed this week when President Joe Biden is expected to sign a bill sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., designed to honor the Army Rangers of World War II.
On Omaha Beach 78 years ago, Ching's 5th Ranger Battalion was among the units pinned down under such withering fire that then-Maj. Gen. Omar Bradley at one point considered ordering a withdrawal.
The battalion would play a pivotal role in taking the heights above the beach to get at the German guns raking the landing area and would inspire the motto: "Rangers lead the way." (In Ranger-speak, it's just "RLTW.")
For his actions that day, Ching would receive a meritorious Bronze Star for "active ground combat against the enemy on 6 June 1944 while serving with the 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion in France," his citation said.
Ching, who was known for his skill with a knife, would receive a second Bronze Star with combat "V" device for his actions on Sept. 2, 1944, in France wiping out a German position. "As a member of a reconnaissance patrol, Private First Class Ching assured the success of its mission by knifing all the occupants of a fortified position," the citation said.
Ching, born in San Francisco in 1924, came to the Army and the all-volunteer Rangers by an unlikely route. His family moved back to China during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but the better life they sought there fell apart when Japan invaded beginning in 1937.
At the urging of his family, Ching returned to the U.S. in 1941, joined the Army in 1943 and then volunteered for the Rangers, said Bonnie Ching Louie, his daughter.
In an interview last Friday, Louie said her father was "very much aware" that he'll be the recipient of a second Congressional Gold Medal, but he's hard of hearing and doesn't like to do interviews.
"He's really proud that he served with that elite [Ranger] group," she said, and equally proud to be a U.S. citizen. From the time she, her two sisters and her brother were kids, "My dad would tell us, 'You are so damn lucky you're living here in America,'" Louie said.
"It will mean a lot to my dad" to receive the second medal, said his son, retired Navy Capt. Carl Ching. His father "has never been a rah-rah guy," boasting of his record, and like so many WWII veterans was reluctant for many years to talk about what he had done and where he had been, the son said in an interview.
Carl Ching recalled that he and his sisters were playing one day and found a cardboard box containing his father's medals. When they asked him about it, he said, "Oh, that's just some ribbons," Carl Ching said.
His father never pressed him to join the military, Carl Ching said, but he initially went into the Navy as an enlisted sailor and served in "Brown Water Navy" patrol boats in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War; he later became an officer. "I wanted to make my dad proud," he said.
The Ching family tradition of service was carried on by a grandson, former Marine Sgt. Alan Chin, who served two tours in Iraq, Carl Ching said.
The Congressional Gold Medal is considered the highest honor Congress can bestow and is awarded to individuals or groups, whether military or civilian, "who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture." Ching will be receiving his second award of the medal as a member of an honored group -- Chinese-American veterans and now WWII Rangers.
Only four individuals -- Gen. Winfield Scott, Gen. and President Zachary Taylor, polar explorer Lincoln Ellsworth and Adm. Hyman G. Rickover -- have received two Congressional Gold Medals, according to the History, Art and Archives section of the House of Representatives.
The "United States Army Rangers Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act," sponsored by Ernst and Crow, passed the Senate last October and the House in May, and now awaits Biden's signature.
In a May floor speech, Crow, a former Ranger captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, cited the advanced age of the living WWII Rangers in urging that the bill be signed into law quickly.
When Crow spoke, there were only 15 living Rangers from WWII, and that number decreased to 14 with the death in late May at age 99 of Ranger Thomas "Tommy" Mascari, who fought in Italy, was captured by the Germans, and escaped by leaping from a prison train.
Once Biden signs the bill, the lengthy process of designing and minting the medal will begin; in the past, it has taken anywhere from six months to more than a year.
A single gold medal will be placed at the Smithsonian Institution and duplicates in bronze will be presented to the living WWII Rangers and made available upon request to families, but the details on how to apply for a duplicate have yet to be worked out.
For Randall Ching, the second award will be a point of pride to mark his service with the Ranger units that set the standard for special operations in the military.
After the war, Ching worked as a stock clerk manager in San Francisco's Chinatown while attending night school to become a certified electronics technician. He then became a maintenance manager until his retirement.
In a virtual ceremony in December 2020 to honor the Chinese Americans receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, said, "We take great pride in our city's Chinese American veterans, including U.S. Army Ranger Randall Ching, the only Ranger of Chinese descent to fight in World War II.
"His valor on D-Day and throughout the war earned him a Bronze Star with 'V' device," Pelosi said, and he "inspired his family, motivating his son to serve in the Navy in Vietnam and his grandson with the Marines in Iraq -- a family legacy of proud service."
"In learning of this congressional recognition, Randall said, 'I am very proud. It's about time,'" Pelosi said. "We agree, Randall. It is time."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.