‘The highest honor available:’ World War II veteran receives Congressional Gold Medal at 95th birthday party
BEAVERTON, Ore. — On the night before Veterans Day, family and friends gathered to celebrate a World War II veteran.
Fred Cheong Lee walked into a surprise party in Beaverton, Oregon for his 95th birthday wearing the same uniform he wore more than 70 years ago.
During the party, Lee was presented with one of the country’s highest honors.
“The celebration tonight he will be receiving an award, the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest honor available to a private citizen that isn’t currently in the military,” said Connie Tuchman, Lee’s daughter.
“It is truly the best of our American country that has been identified by Congress to receive this medal,” said William John Prendergast, National Guard land Component commander.
The medal honors people who have impacted American history and culture. Lee has done both.
He was born in Portland but served the country during the Chinese Exclusion Act, when Chinese laborers were not allowed to come to America.
“He was born here, but the amount of prejudice that he received was incredible,” said Tuchman.
He served anyways — deployed as a cartographer.
“He did the strategic mapping every single day to locate where all the allies were and where the enemy was,” said Tuchman.
Lee’s family said his willingness to serve, even in a time when he wasn’t always accepted, is just his character.
“More than anything else, if you describe dad, he is someone who likes to serve and volunteer,” said Tuchman.
So, what’s his secret to a long life? He said to just keep moving.
“You got to be active,” said Lee. “You got to be active. I was a tennis player. Be careful of what I eat and what I do, and I was pretty active playing tennis all the time.”
The first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to George Washington in 1776. It can be given to people, groups or institutions, and has been awarded less than 200 times.