The search for Ranger Raymond Lee began after the posting in early June of a Military.com story marking the 78th anniversary of the D-Day landings that focused on former Pfc. Randall Ching. As was often repeated in articles from numerous news outlets, Ching was believed to be the only Chinese American Ranger veteran of World War II.
Then came a message, and numerous follow-up phone calls, from retired Army Maj. Gen. William Chen, who is active with the Chinese-American World War II Veterans Recognition Project.
Chen himself had believed that Ching was the only WWII Chinese American Ranger among the nearly 7,000 members of the all-volunteer force. But shortly after publishing an article on Chinese American veterans in late 2019, Chen came across honorable discharge papers for Lee, which showed a home of record on Mott Street in New York City's Chinatown, and listed him as serving with the 6th Ranger Battalion in the Philippines during WWII.
Military.com reached out to Ron Hudnell, a West Point graduate, former Army captain, Vietnam veteran and Ranger, who had long advocated to honor the WWII Army Rangers with the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM).
His databases, collected through The Descendants of World War II Rangers Inc., showed that there was a radio operator and Ranger Tec 4 named Raymond Lee, who served with the 6th Ranger Battalion in WWII, but where was he and was he still alive?
A false lead. There was a different Raymond Lee from Pennsylvania who had received the CGM when it was authorized by then-President Donald Trump in 2018 for the estimated 20,000 Chinese American men and women veterans who served in WWII, but it turned out that he was not a Ranger.
But Chen had managed to track down the right Lee, having made contact with the 97-year-old's daughter Linda, who was living with her father in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. Yes, he was Chinese American and, yes, he was a Ranger.
Lee had never received the CGM he merited as a Chinese American veteran of WWII, and he also had been unaware until Thursday, when his daughter was contacted by Chen, that he is now also eligible for a second CGM as a WWII Ranger under a bill signed by President Joe Biden last week.
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."
Chen said that he was "absolutely delighted" that Lee will now have the chance to receive two awards of the CGM, marking him as one of only a handful of such honorees. Chen is working to arrange a presentation of the CGM to Lee for his status as a Chinese American veteran of WWII. The award of the second CGM as a WWII Ranger will have to await the design and minting of the medal.
Another veteran who was thrilled to learn that there is a second Chinese American Ranger veteran of WWII was Ching, who now has company in the history books. In a phone interview with Military.com, Bonnie Ching Louie said her 97-year-old father was ecstatic when she told him about Lee and responded, "Oh, that's great -- where's he been all these years?"
Ching had been among the recognized 13 living Rangers from WWII. Now, "as far as we know," there are 14 with the addition of Lee, Hudnell told Military.com. "There may be others out there."
There likely could be other WWII Rangers who will be eligible for a second Congressional Gold Medal. During the Italian campaign, several hundred Rangers were sent to bolster the depleted ranks of the First Special Service Force, known as the "Devil's Brigade." The First Special Service Force was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015.
"I can guarantee you we're absolutely thrilled" that Lee has been found, said Hudnell, who credited Military.com with the initial story that set off the search. He said it was possible that Lee did not come forward before because he was like so many other veterans who didn't talk about the war and "just wanted to get on with their lives."
"These WWII Rangers set the standard and are models to today's special operations soldiers. We can never award them enough for their WWII contributions and sacrifices," said Hudnell, whose late father, James B. Hudnell, was a WWII Ranger.
In brief remarks at a White House ceremony last week before he signed the United States Army Rangers Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, Biden said that the Rangers played "a critical role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy" on June 6, 1944.
Ching was among the 5th Battalion Rangers who fought their way off Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings, and he would earn two Bronze stars for his actions in France.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.