AAPI Story:”It’s time for America to honor the same people who served in uniform”

By Joe Luu

It was a pleasure to meet a former Vietnam War veteran who happens to be an active Vice Commander in the American Legion Post 628 in Los Angeles Chinatown, CA.  Peter Chow, now in his mid 70s, proudly wears a red cap that reads Vietnam War Veteran in the front and on its right-side spells out Bronze Star recipient. A Bronze Star spells out courage in during war.  I can’t help but interview this combat veteran for his dedication and sacrifices during the war.

Peter Chow

“My parents immigrated from Shanghai, Mainland China to New York City, New York in 1966. I was born in 1950 in Shanghai.  I am the oldest of my siblings. I have one younger brother named, Jim, and a younger sister named, May.  Unfortunately, I was drafted. In other words, Uncle Sam voluntold me. I did not volunteer”, jokingly claimed a married father of two daughters. Chow received a letter in the mail one afternoon coming home from NYU, New York University.   “That letter had an attached dime coin to it. The dime was for the bus fair to a military enlistment processing station called (MEPS)”. It was so sudden that Chow did not have time to say goodbye to his immediate family members. The draftee’s basic training was in Fort Gordon, Georgia and later he transferred for additional training in Augsburg, Germany. He spent twelve months training with NATO troops for war preparation. He was immediately redeployed to The Republic of Vietnam in October 1970 after the Germany’s assignment.

M113 Armored Personnel Carrier

“When I landed in Cam Ranh International airport, South Vietnam, I was astonished by the beautiful Vietnamese red sky.  Later I found out that the red sky was because of the enemy rockets and mortars attempting to fire upon our airplanes as we descended,” said Peter. He did not have a choice but was given a dangerous military occupation as an infantry soldier. “I was sad knowing that I can die in Nam at any time. I was glad though that I assigned to a mechanized infantry unit, the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division, meaning that I don’t have to carry all of my equipment on my back. We have tracked vehicles for all of that weight” Chow said.  “I was the driver for the M113, an Armored Personnel Carrier.  We treated the war like a job. I am not joking here. We would go out from our area at 9 am and return before sunset like around at 5 pm. We don’t look for a fight with ‘Charlie’, the enemy, especially during the weekend or during the holidays. When we are off, most of us smoked marijuana to relieve our stress”. According to Mr. Chow even the top brass officers like Majors and Colonels smoked with the troops to fit in.  “If a military officer does not smoke and mingle with us, someone will shoot him in back with an AK-47, an enemy’s weapon, and blame it on Charlie” said the former army infantry soldier.

Chow escaped death not once but twice. One rainy morning he was not feeling well and decided to go on ‘Sick Call’, a term used for seeking a medical care. Later that same morning, Chow was saddened to hear the news that all 6 soldiers in his M113 vehicle including the driver were killed. Their tracked vehicle ran over two 80-pound landmines, and all inside the vehicle died from the destructive explosion. On a second near-death experience, Specialist Chow escaped death once again.  “I believe someone above was looking out for me. I had the urge to pee so badly that and decided to step out of my wooden bunker to pee.  All of a sudden, I hear a big bang, and the place where I was sleeping earlier was decimated to the ground with debris everywhere”, Chow laughed, “I was told that it was a 122mm enemy rocket that had landed on my shelter.  I guess going to the toilet saved my butt, thank you the Lord” Chow prayed with tears falling his cheek. Peter mentioned that the deployment in Vietnam was unpredictable and dangerous. “Every so often we get lobsters, steaks, and beers for dinner. Everyone in my unit had a blast.  But nothing comes for free, the next day we were sent out on a patrol mission and some soldiers returned in body bags” said Chow. He insisted that he rather get stalled bread and beans knowing there were no major battles the next day.

Peter Chow

Chow served for almost a year in Vietnam.  He received a Bronze star from his Commanding General for saving many lives in the Southeast Asian country. Chow returned to the states and was discharged from the army in 1971. He opened a Kung Fu school in Chinatown, Cincinnati. He is married to Lisa, a nurse at the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs health facility. He is the father of two daughters named Linda and Helen.

Chow is an advocate for Asian Americans awareness in the U.S. military. He told a story that he accidentally cut in front of a White senior man in a wheelchair while he was driving. Instead of the angry man yelling at him, he saluted the driver for his service because of his veteran cap. “If it was not for my military service, he would have cursed at me or yelled Covid-19 or go back to your country,” said Chow.

He noticed that his military service got him out of many traffic infractions. Just the other day, he drove through three lanes and a policeman let him go because his license plate reads Disabled Veteran. The police officer told him to be careful next time but instead cited his wife and daughter for not wearing seatbelts. “I was so surprised. I was supposed to be cited because I was the driver but instead the policeman gave the tickets to my family members”, laughed the proud veteran.

I want more people to be aware of Asian Americans in uniformed services. Currently, Chow is in connection with the Director of Veterans Affairs to build a Chinese American Memorial in West Los Angeles to honor Chinese Americans who fought for this great nation. “America treated Chinese Americans like crap when we built them the railroads, now it is time for America to honor the same people who served in uniform” cheered Chow.

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