UNCG Magazine

In WWII, duty called

When U.S. troops in the Pacific theater needed English-speaking nurses during World War II, Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo ’48 answered the call. Her own studies in nursing had been interrupted by the war.

Last winter – nearly eight decades later – she accepted a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her fellow Chinese-American veterans of WWII.

An estimated 20,000 Chinese-Americans served in the U.S. armed forces during that war, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Elsie outside dormitory, 1942
Elsie in Shanghai, 1946

In the ceremony, conducted by video due to the coronavirus pandemic, Elsie said, “I am deeply honored to receive this Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of my sisters and brothers.”

In Hong Kong on Dec. 8, 1941 – just after Pearl Harbor had been bombed as well – she tended to casualties of the Japanese attack. Hong Kong surrendered, and she ultimately made it out of the city, joining the Chinese Red Cross. She joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in June 1944 and was stationed with the 14th Air Force as a member of the Air Service Command. She continued to serve in China with the 95th Station Hospital in Kunming and Chengdu, and with the 172nd General Hospital in Shanghai, from October 1945 to February 1946.

“I hope our perseverance and our commitment and hard work will further inspire our young people to serve this wonderful country.”

– Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo ’48

Originally from California, Elsie returned to the United States in 1946, enrolling at Woman’s College. “All the students were just so young, and I felt very mature,” she recalled in an interview for UNCG’s Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project. “Their faces were not marred by war-torn worries or fears.” She graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing degree.

She and many other Chinese-Americans had “answered the call to duty,” she said during the ceremony. “I hope our perseverance and our commitment and hard work will further inspire our young people to serve this wonderful country.”

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