Lai, Wing Yoke

Wing Yoke Lai was born January 27, 1925 in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  He was the fourth of five children living in a small 2-bedroom housing unit.  He grew up against the backdrop of the Great Depression in a tough neighborhood where the YMCA and the movies offered an outlet.  Wing attended Galileo High School, where he remembers that he got along well with everyone including Japanese-Americans before they were sent to internment camps.  All three sons worked in the family store. On December 7, 1941 Wing was watching a baseball game:  he was just 14 when the Pearl Harbor attack took place. At age 18 Wing received his draft notice, and he arrived at Fort Ord wanting to be a good soldier.  Wing was first sent to Reading, California to fight fires, and then he went to Springfield, Illinois where he joined the 14th Chinese-American Air Service Squadron.  The next stop was Venice, Florida where he trained as supply personnel for Army airplanes such as the P-40 and C-47.  Then he boarded a troop ship:  Wing was bunked for 32 days in the lowest compartment of the William Buckner on his way to Burma.  He said that fortunately they did not encounter any German submarines, but that the seas were very rough.  He crossed the equator and traveled to Melbourne, Australia and then to Bombay, India.  He said that the troops mostly slept on the compartment floor and played cards and wrote and received letters.  Wing only knew the men in his 14th Squadron.  He remarked that upon arrival in Bombay it was crowded, poor and filled with the homeless.  Wing boarded a troop ship to Calcutta to a British air base, where he serviced C-47’s.  He also drove trucks in a convoy over the open Burma road.  They only drove 10-20 miles per day at 5 MPH on the winding section of the Burma road.  Wing said that when they arrived in China they were greeted as heroes.  While there, Wing mentioned that he befriended a lady and shared his rations with her.  In response she gave him a “rock”; years later his wife discovered that it was in fact jade!  On August 6.1945 Wing stated that he had no awareness of the war’s end or the dropping of the atomic bomb!  On a sad note, Wing’s brother was killed in a truck accident overseas at war’s end.  He never returned home  after the war, although he is buried in the San Bernardino National Cemetery.  Wing spent the last 6 months in China after the war, where he was a Supply Sgt. at the airport.  During the cold Nov.-Jan. he would drive his friends to the French Quarter of Shanghai.  They went to 3 dance clubs in the French Quarter where Filipino bands played. Wing returned to the US and was discharged.  Taking advantage of the GI Bill he enrolled in the 2-year San Francisco State College where he majored in business. With his VA benefits Wing was able to buy a house and receive health care.  Not long after, Wing Married met Dorothy, who he had met before the war at the YMCA dances, movies and outings.  The Lais have 3 children:  2 girls and 1son, and  7 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren, and they are approaching their 75th anniversary.  Wing Yoke Lai was interviewed by Crestwood students over zoom in February 2024.