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Russell Low

Great-grandson of Hong Lai Wo

Interviewee: Russell Low, Great-Grandson
Interviewed by: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Interview Date: September 18, 2013
Location: Stockton, California
Length of Interview: 37 minutes, 57 seconds

Introduction to Family History

Transcript:
00:19 Russell Low: Hi my name is Russell Low. I was born in April of 1953 in Stockton, California. My parents built this house, and they have lived here for over sixty years, my mom at least.
00:33 Low: My interest in sort of our family history began twenty years ago, and at that time, I videotaped my father and many of his siblings in 1991 or 1992, talking about their parents in Salem. It turns out that my grandmother, my dad’s mother, was from a family that turns out that participated in building the railroads. Specifically, we later found out, in building the Transcontinental Railroad.

Synopsis:
Russell Low discovered from a family story that his great-grandparents on his father’s side were involved with building the Transcontinental Railroad.

Keywords:
Lauren Lo (father); Russell Low; Salem; Stockton

Subjects:
Family history

01:04 Low: So, if you take the family history back many many years, probably the first artifact we have is the photo I am looking at here. And this was the photo of their family in Chinatown in 1903. And in this photo, as you’ll see, they are all dressed up in Chinese costumes. And this photo shows two parents. Tom Ying, was her mother, and Hong Lai Wo, was her father. And a total of five children at that time. And their story goes back much further, as we found out later. Because the father, was born in the Dailong Village – her father, was Hong Lai Wo – in 1850, we believe, or right about that time. So he was in this village and he came to the United States, we think, in the mid 1860s. The date isn’t really clearly known. But it wasn’t until he met his wife, actually. Well, I should go back. He came to work in the Transcontinental Railroad, according to a story told by his son. We can go back to that story a little bit later, because that story told by one of his sons at his 100th birthday is really what sort of cemented our belief that the father worked on the transcontinental railroad. So he came at 1865, perhaps, mid-1860s. He came, with an uncle, older brother actually, he came with one of his brothers, and they worked on the Transcontinental Railroad. At some point during this, the story according to his son, was that the brother lost an eye during a blasting accident. And exactly where that happened isn’t clear. But that’s the story as we know it. The fact is that there is little that is known about that time period. After he worked on the transcontinental railroad, we believe he came back to San Francisco. He worked, at some point, at factories making cigars. Later on, he owned a cigar factory, became a merchant.
03:06 Low: And his wife, was Tom Ying, and her story is actually quite interesting. So the father came over to work in the Transcontinental Railroad. The wife came over, by family history, she was brought over by missionaries. And my mom actually remembers that she was then put in a home for young Chinese girls. So we believe that the true story was that she was probably brought over to be a slave or a servant. As a young girl, 6 or 8 years of age. And she was rescued, and I think she probably was at the Occidental Home for Chinese Girls, later became the Cameron House. She lived there for several years. Recently I went back to that, to the Cameron House, and went through their old records, trying to find her name in there, but was not successful. So we don’t have any absolute proof, but most of us believe that that was the story.
03:55 Low: So she came in 1880, and in 1888, she married Hong Lai Wo. That was his married name at that time. So that the stories according to them is that he would have had to came into the Cameron House, the Occidental Home for Chinese Girls. He would have met them, they would have interviewed him, they would have grilled them basically to make sure that he was worthy of marrying one of their young girls. And apparently he was accepted. They were married in 1888, and over the next several years, they had a number of children. And the children are in this photograph. And the oldest was born in 1890, that was my grandmother. Her name was Ah Gui. The other children were born between 1891 and 1896. So these children, Kim later tells the story – was the fourth child – and I believe he is born 1894, and Kim later on went on to tell the stories I mentioned.
04:56 Low: They grew up in Chinatown, and I think they had a good childhood according to Kim. According to many recordings we have of Kim describing what it was like to be in Chinatown, he talked about going to Chinese school, and he resisted this because he didn’t think he needed to learn Chinese, but his mother told him, “no, you must go to Chinese school” and he did. His mother worked as a seamstress, and as a midwife. And in fact, according to Kim, she brought a lot of Chinese babies into the world in Chinatown during this period of time.
05:34 Low: Their lives changed about the turn of the century. So this is like the early 1900s. And this photo is from 1903. I think many things were happening. I think the family, were as many families in Chinatown, was probably quite poor. There wasn’t a lot of money. So of the five children, they had to marry one off quite early. My grandmother, Ah Gui, was married in 1903. She was quite young at that time. Actually only 13 years of age. That began the story of my side of the family, the Low side of the family. So 1903, the oldest daughter, Ah Gui, *Ah Kei* as we called her, went off to Salem.
06:17 Low: In 1904, two young boys, there’s Kim, and his older brother Bing, went off to live with Uncle in Calypso, Montana. And he tells the story, Kim does, wonderfully, I have to show you that videotape, because he talks about – he is 10, his brother Bing, he is 12 years old, they are dressed in their skull caps and their Chinese finery, and the mother is sending them off. Imagine being a mother sending two younger sons off to live with an uncle that she barely knows. And they have to go off on the train. Well first, they have to cross the ferry. So they cross San Francisco Bay on a ferry. And she gives each of them three Chinese coins, with a square cut out of it. She gives them very specific instructions. Take the coins, throw them out into the water for good luck. It’s some legend that perhaps she now – they tell us the story of how they very religiously did this as they were crossing San Francisco Bay with their uncle. Once they went to Oakland, they then got on a train, went up to Seattle, and from Seattle changed to the Great Northern Pacific Railroad and took the train from Seattle or Spokane all the way to Calypso, Montana. And Calypso, Montana was quite a mining western town, I presume. So then he worked with his uncle.
07:44 Low: The uncle owned a merchant store – a merchandise store – and he watched the store for him. One of the stories about the uncle is that he sold and made lingerie for the women of the night – he called them – for the prostitutes. And he said that the uncle was quite enterprising. So he would talk his way into these brothels and sold the underwear to the women. The other business he had was, at least he worked in another business, was Bong Tong Restaurant. Both he and Bing worked as bus boys. And they would make fifty cents an hour. At the end of the month, the boys had sixty dollars and every month would sent the money back to their mother, in San Francisco.
08:31 Low: So by this time, the mother was by herself because the father had passed away in 1905. The father passed away in 1905, he died from beriberi, which is a vitamin B1 deficiency. I think you get that basically because he was starving. People were just eating plain white rice. Not enough nutrients in it for us. He died a very slow death over a couple years. *inaudible* So I think this again is another reflection that they just didn’t have enough money.
09:03 Low: So they were in Calypso, Montana, working. He went to school. Actually, he tells a story that when he went to the American school in Calypso, Montana, he had a queue. All the Chinese did. And when he went to school, the boys wanted to play with it. The American boys. And they wanted to pick fights with him. He realized that when you are in a fight, having long hair is really quite a disadvantage. So he came home and he told his uncle that I want to cut off my queue. The uncle said, “no, you can’t do that. If you cut off your queue and go back to China, they are going to chop off their head. The Manchus will.” So he said, “I don’t care. If I go back to China, I will grow another queue.” So he cut off his queue like 1905, perhaps, quite early. So he said that when the Manchurians were overthrown that he then went around in a basket and cut off dozens of queues from the Chinamen in Calypso, Montana.
09:55 Low: But they were there for quite a time. And while they were there, something else of course happened. A few months later, the earthquake occurred in San Francisco. So right after the boys left the earthquake destroyed their home. They had no place to go back to. So they were there pretty much stranded with their uncle. The mother, back in San Francisco, took the older daughter, Chung Go, still there, and the younger brother, Ah Toon, or Ed, and she then moved to Oakland. So the family story moves to Oakland while the boys are in Montana.
10:29 Low: The boys actually stayed there until about 1910. And in 1910, for some reason, they changed. Apparently what happened was that Bing went to Whitefish, Montana where he became an assistant cook. That sort of starts his whole story as a cook. He, throughout the rest of his life, cooked at different restaurants, and different resorts. I think that’s where he probably learned – you can find him on census.
10:54 Low: Whereas Kim did not. Kim actually went to Salem. Salem, as you recall, is where his older sister Kei went to. Kei went to marry Low San Fuk – the Low side of the family. Kim joined them in Salem, and actually went to Salem High School for three years. So he graduated in 1913. So Kim is there from 1910 to 1913, living with the Low side of the family. So if we continue with Kim, he was there for three years at least and during this time he apparently built an airplane in the front lawn. Big biplane airplane. He built this on the front lawn, and was planning on putting an engine, but his father-in-law, Low San Fuk, refused to give him the money to put in the plane – it seemed like a very frivolous thing – so at some point the plane was destroyed. It’s interesting because the story changes depending on which side of the family you talking about – whether they burned it or Kim chopped it up with an ax, or what happened. Anyways, it never happened.
11:60 Low: He did however, go to Berkeley, Kim did. He was able to pay for this education because of his father-in-law, excuse me, brother-in-law, Low San Fuk, paid for this. He went to Berkeley in 1913. He went there early because he graduated from Salem High School in three years instead of four. In 1913, he entered, did quite well. He received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1917. By this, our family history was the first to Chinese-American to graduate there with a degree in engineering. So this is a fairly remarkable feat. Very early in the 1900s.
12:46 Low: He then went on to become a – oh, he married in 1918, had a number of children, I can show you on the family tree – and went on to become an engineer who built many large ships for the **Mordge Rigedock** Company. He was involved in, I think he was the first Chinese-American chief engineer, according to his record. He’s listed in Who’s Who, that was one of his accomplishments that he was quite proud of. He, I think my mom can speak to this better than I can, but Kim becomes known as somebody who is quite articulate, and really sort of a leader and a spokesperson for the whole Chinese community, not just in Stockton but really, probably Northern California. He was probably one of the most articulate, well-spoken Chinese American of that generation. He wrote and spoke Chinese, he wrote poetry in Chinese, so he’s quite remarkable.
13:39 Low: As you will see later, he had many birthday parties where at these parties he would not get up and just address the audience but he would lecture. Wonderfully. In an incredible and articulate way. He talked about different things. Some of his lectures had to do with family history, he had one called the Pioneer Hongs where he talked about their contribution to the transcontinental railroad.
14:02 Low: And at his 100th birthday – it was my sister. He had just gotten up and delivered his 100th birthday address to all these people, all of our family. And he talked about his mother, extensively. He loved his mother. And he didn’t once mention his father. So my sister, Laurel, came up to him afterwards and said, “you know, Uncle Kim, you always talk about your mother, but you never mention your father. Tell me about your father.”
14:28 Low: And he, at that point, spontaneously went into this mini-lecture, about the Transcontinental Railroad, and about his uncle, and his father who came to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, and the contribution – I hope I get a chance to share that with you, because that’s what really sort of cements our belief that indeed his father did work on the Transcontinental Railroad. He talks a bit about the injury, and so on.
14:52 Low: Now, who this uncle was, isn’t quite clear. Because he said that throughout his life, he always saw that this uncle was missing an eye. He said, “Uncle, what happened to your eye?” The Uncle said, “I lost it in a blasting accident while working on the Railroad.” But, for the Chinese, as you just mentioned, was just a job. It wasn’t something special. So he said it wasn’t until much later that he actually figured out that it indeed was the Transcontinental Railroad. It’s my belief that probably it’s the same uncle he went to Montana with, but we can’t put that together, two on two.
15:28 Low: At some point, Kim, according to records in China, was adopted out to one of the brothers. So he was adopted to one of his father’s brothers, and actually it was the older brother **Dok Wo.** It could be that **Dok Wo** was the person who was in Montana and maybe the person who lost an eye. But that’s putting together a few parts of the puzzle. We are not quite sure.
15:54 Low: This is the 1903 photograph of the Hong family (shows the photograph). It is one of our family treasures and our heirlooms and this photo, or copies of it, is really all over the world. Because the people, the descendants of these people, are all over the world now. And each of them somehow has a copy of it, it actually could have been copied in China, perhaps. But it shows. (going from left to right) This is Hong Lai Wo, the railroad worker. This is Tom Ying, the girl who is rescued and lived at the Cameron House. And these are their five children. This is my grandmother here, Ah Gui, next to her is Chung Go – Chung Go married in to the Jin (Chin) family that Grace is related to. Uhm, this here is Ed Toon, the young one, born in 1896. This is Bing, born in 1892, I believe. And this is Kim. We have been talking about Kim. Kim was born in 1894. And this is the family that lived together until about 1903 when Ah Gui had to go off at 13 years of age and went to Salem in 1890. In 1904, the two brothers Kim and Bing went to Montana. In 1905, the father dies and the family then moves to Montana. That’s kind of what we are talking about. That’s sort of where things took at that point.
17:25 Low: But I wanted to sort of go back a little bit, and maybe move forward a bit, and tell you about how Kim reconnected with the family in China, which I think is something that we all would like to do. He had some communication with one of his cousins in 1970. And this cousin of his was one of the sons of his father’s younger brother. I’ll talk a little about these five brothers in just a bit. He died in 1974, this cousin did. But his son – number two of his boys – subsequently wrote to Uncle Kim in 1978. And from this communication they were able to sort of open the doors. And this was a time when the U.S.-China relationships were really re-blossoming and reaffirming themselves. So I think it was their hope, in China, that Kim would help some of these children come to America.
18:22 Low: But in the context of the letters, we could see that there were a lot of talk about family history. I think that’s where Kim came to understand – he asked many questions about who he is, who father was, what his relationship was to his presumed uncles, and who his grand parents were. And the relationships were that that there was five brothers, the father was named Hong Long Yan. The five brothers were Duk Wo, was the oldest brother, somebody came, err, Jik Wo, Win Yi, Lai Wo, which is my great-grandfather, and Fun Wo. The letters were coming from us to the grandsons of Fun Wo, the letters going back and forth between the two of them.
19:08 Low: But in the letters, they actually included pictures of the village. So on the bottom of this, and they give you a copy of this, this is a picture of the Dai Long village. And at that time in 1978, there were 110 families and 450 people living there. But this was the village that Hong Lai Wo came from, presumably by 1865 or so. What’s fascinating is that I since then met a couple cousins who were from that family, and they show pictures of the inside of the house. And they say that it’s the same home. It has been rebuilt, but it’s the same ancestral home that all of them were from. And it’s just fascinating to see that. So, that’s our connection.
19:51 Low: I think at some point, the railroad stories sort of evolved. Again, this is the story he told over and over again.
20:01 Yu: My question is, is this village in Toi San district?
20:05 Low: I believe it’s in Hoy Ping and I can actually show you a picture and you can tell me where this is, Connie. That’s the picture. The arrow is pointing at the part of the district that they are in.
20:21 Yu: Possibly.
20:21 Low: Yeah. I think it’s Hoy Ping. You know Celia? Yeah, Celia has been to that village. So she can tell you.
20:30 Yu: So that’s above Toi San?
20:32 Low: Yeah, I think it is above north. And I think my grandmother is actually from a village north of theirs as well. Was that important to you, to know that?
20:41 Yu: Well, the majority, perhaps even 90% of the Chinese who worked on the railroad workers were from Toi San.
20:50 Low: I see.
20:50 Yu: But Hoy Ping’s close.
20:52 Barre Fong: But it’s all close to the delta area.
20:53 Russell Low: Yeah, it’s all in the same area. The four county areas, exactly.
21:01 Low: It was one of the fascinating things when we went to the Transcontinental Railroad. There is a state railroad museum, I am sure you have been there. We found a number of artifacts there, including, these payroll records here. And while not proof at all, the name on the one that they just have happened to have was Hong Lai Wo.
21:21 Rose Low: Oh that’s right! We went to the museum and saw that page on the display!
21:25 Russell Low: Take a look at it, right there.
21:27 Rose Low: And that’s how come we went to talk to the people.
21:30 Yu: That is.
21:33 Russell Low: That’s pretty amazing. So, I am not sure. I don’t think that’s proof. Because it actually turns out that term may just mean good fortune. It could have also been a name of a company as well as an individual. So, it was interesting. At that time they were just opening the …
21:48 Rose Low: So that’s what started the whole thing. When we saw that page with that name on it. Then we talked to the people.
21:50 Russell Low: Absolutely. (looks for a picture)
21:57 Russell Low: This is a picture of my great-grandmother, Tom Ying, who became Hong Tom Shi. She was born perhaps in 1871, although we have seen records where it says 1866. As you know dates in Chinese-American history are very loose.
22:15 Rose Low: She is buried right here in Stockton.
22:17 Russell Low: Yeah, actually she is very very close. And she had all those five children, and was rescued by the missionaries. At the Cameron House we believe. Married in 1888 and worked as a seamstress and midwife. She is from a nearby village and also probably in that same county. But, uh, fascinating history. Where should we go with the story next?
22:49 Yu: I still think there is more with the railroad?
22:53 Russell Low: You know? (scratches chin)
22:55 Yu: And where they settled after, right after the building?
22:59 Russell Low: I think that the truth is. We would like to fill in blanks but we really don’t know. You know. The story about the railroad was entirely Kim’s story. It’s a story that he discovered, and told many times. But exactly when or where we don’t know. He talks about the uncle, the injuring and losing an eye, but the exact location isn’t really clear. 23:12 When they came back, what we do know is he came back to San Francisco at some point. He worked in the factories making cigars. After that he got married to his wife in 1888. At some point he owns a cigar factory. And worked as cook as well. I found him in a census. And at that point he was working as a cook, I believe, or as labor, got cook. He dies in 1905 from beriberi. Those are essentially the details that we know.
23:59 Low: I mean, my dad has one other story which will be fun for you to record. I asked my father, who never met him, what are some stories about your grandfather, Hong Lai Wo, that you know. He only knew one. He said that when his grandfather was working on the railroad, he once found himself working across one of those trestles. As he was out there, he heard the train coming. So he had to hop off the side of the trestle, hang on to the edge of the railroad tie as the train rumbled by over his head, and was able to save his life. So, that apparently, according to his wife, was a story that was true. And the fascinating thing is that my dad, who is something of a daredevil, found himself in exactly the same predicament decades later. (laughs) He did the same thing, although he wasn’t working on a railroad. That’s quite frankly the extent of what we think we know about that time period.
24:53 Yu: Did Celia talk about your ancestral village being one of the railroad villages?
24:59 Low: In the letters, that went back and forth, that village, the Dai Long village, as it is actually referred to in the translation as the village of the foreign Chinese, and I think one of them said that by 1978, 9 of 10 people who lived in that village, had a relative in America. So they all had relative who had gone. And in that picture, as you recall, there were some buildings in the back that were much larger. Those of course were built with money sent back from the foreign Chinese. So it clearly was, I think it was something that they were proud of, frankly.
25:36 Yu: Now, who in your family has gone back to the village?
25:40 Low: No one. As far as I know. Celia was my connection. A fabulous story about Celia is – (addresses Rose Low) Have you met Celia? You know Celia? (back to interview) Celia Tan is somebody I met in Pasadena, in LA. And at that time she was here visiting and doing some research on her specialty. And I gave her at some point, one of the letters that went between Kim and the nephews in the Dai Long village. I sent her a picture as well of the family in Dai Long Village. Let’s see if I have that.
26:17 Low: Because she went back to the village and she showed this picture, and she showed the connections, she wanted to find these people, and she says quite frankly that they were very suspicious of her. They didn’t trust her at all. But eventually she could locate people who knew where the family was then. They actually had moved out, although they kept the home. She was able to meet with them. So really because of Celia we were able to reconnect to this family.
26:40 Yu: But none of your family, you’ve never been to the village.
26:43 Low: Nope. I would love to go back. I actually planned on going back this week, but it just didn’t work out. I think for me to go, I need somebody to go with me. Hopefully one of my cousins, because I don’t speak Chinese. And it just wasn’t able to be scheduled. So I would like to find you that picture, I might, that shows you the family in China. Because they are an important part of the story because they have been in the letters. (looks for the photo)
27:36 Low: Here it is. There’s, in 1978, the families that were communicating with Uncle Kim. These people here are, I since met the girl, Rachel, and the son, Guang Ming – they made it to the U.S. Probably two decades later. They are actually here now. They grew up in that same home. But it was the letters between their father here and Uncle Kim, that sort of spurred interest in sort of a renewed connection between the American and the Chinese portions of the family.
28:20 Fong: Where in China did they live, again? Did I miss it?
28:22 Low: They lived in Dai Long.
28:25 Fong: And are they still there?
28:27 Low: Some of them are. They actually sent me photos of Dai Long village and what it looks like now, at least their home. But this is what it looked like in 1978. But presumably, these are the descendants of Lai Wo’s younger brother, who was called Fun Wo. So that’s our connection. But I would love to go. If you wanna take a trip, let me know.
28:56 So that’s where we were at the time. We could pick up with other portions of the family. Actually, I counted last night, Connie, about how many descendants there are, in that 1903 photo. If you count their children there are 104 descendants that we can track from those two people. There are like 6 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren, and 43 great-great-grandchildren. It is really quite remarkable what came out of those people. And I think it is a story in it of itself.
29:29 Yu: Here’s what we would like to hear from you, about your parents and your youth, and your career.
29:36 Low: If you sort of look at it as those descendants as a whole, what’s remarkable is what they have accomplished. They are all solid, upstanding people. There are no bad people, no one went to prison, they are all very good people. But, even in the first generation, I think, Kim’s generation, he went to the university, graduated as an engineer. In the next generation, their children, they are physicians. That’s my dad’s generation. There are at least three physicians, one of them was a woman, my Auntie Isabel, which was uncommon, since it was then mid-1900s, where she was able to be educated and become a Chinese American doctor. There were engineers, of course. My dad was a World War II hero. He went off to fight in the South Pacific, and was awarded a silver star for bravery during combat. So, there are just remarkable stories and that’s that generation. The next generation, which is mine, there are more physicians, everybody has done very well. Everyone has gone to university. And in the subsequent generation, they are the ones sort of evolving themselves. My son is a neuro-scientist, the other one’s a psychologist. And the other family, similar. Everyone is educated, went to college, and have done quite well.
30:54 Low: So you take this story as it began with a young boy who came, as a teenager to work on the Transcontinental Railroad and his wife who is probably brought here as a slave, rescued by the missionaries. And from that all-American story, you have this family now. The descendants who have done really remarkable things. And without the sacrifices and the chance that these people took, we wouldn’t be here. It’s really part of the American fabric, and it’s really quite remarkable that it has turned out the way that it did.
31:25 Fong: And you worked at Stanford?
31:29 Low: Yes!
31:30 Fong: Can you tell us about that? And also, whether any of the descendants attended Stanford?
31:36 Low: You know, the Stanford connection is essentially my history. I am a physician. I trained at a number of University of California schools, UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Francisco, and my last year of training was at Stanford Medical School where I did a fellowship, in a particular type of imaging and radiology. So that is our Stanford connection.
32:07 Yu: I just had a couple of thoughts about, um. I really liked how you summarized the immigration which created this community.
32:22 Low: Oh, absolutely.
32:23 Yu: And the descendants which have succeeded.
32:26 Low: You know, what’s really interesting, Connie, is that of – we are so spread out now, that many of us don’t know each other. It was really my interest in this history that kind of reconnected us in some sense. I went around and found all of my uncles and aunts and I interviewed them. I talked to them. And I talked to their children. Because of that, we had these reunions and and meetings. I don’t know if we will continue. But it is sort of nice to reconnect. Because our connection, at least the ones that I chose to pursue, was our history to our antecedents, back to the railroad workers and his wife, the midwife.
33:03 Yu: Your father sounds – his story is remarkable. Where did he go to college?
33:09 Low: My father did not go to college. This was during World War II. So after high school, he enlisted fairy soon, actually. He actually enlisted before Pearl Harbor. So he was one of the “regular army,” they called him. He didn’t wait to be called up. Early in 1941, I guess in January, he enlisted.
33:28 Low: He eventually joined the aviation engineers, these are the people who built all the runways. He was stationed in South Pacific, initially went to Hawaii. They participated in invasions and building runways on Baker Island and Christmas Island and eventually, the last place they went to was Saipan.
33:53 Low: And Saipan was a very bloody battle. They tried to land D+2. So the marines went on the first day, D-Day. They tried to land on D+2, to get all of their heavy equipment in, the big bulldozers and the tractors and things. But the Japanese were shelling so they just couldn’t. So they had to take all of their LSTs back up to sea. And D+5, they were able to come in and I don’t know what their tactic was, there were some firing at that time. He had landed on the beach head at Saipan.
34:27 Low: Probably the next day, they went to what was then the Japanese airstrip and they were able to basically reconstruct it over many months into something the Americans could use, basically to bomb Japan. All of those raids with the B-24 bombers, that either left from Guam or Saipan. They were very important. In fact, this was the closest island to Japan at the time, so the Japanese were defending it ferociously, because they didn’t want to let the Americans in.
35:07 Fong: Particular moment that led to the Silver Star?
35:10 Low: Absolutely. And you have to read about it online, because my dad tells the story. Your question was, “was there a story about the Silver Star that my dad, Lauren, was awarded in WWII?” And the story was that D-Day was June 14, I believe, and about June 23-24, so they had only been there for a few days. He was working at night, and they were trying to basically reconstruct a Japanese fuel farm. And these fuel farms were right next to aviation – the airstrip there. They had these gigantic tanks of full of fuel, like 50,000 tanks, gallons of aviation fuel in there.
35:49 Low: The Americans couldn’t use the aviation fuel because it was the wrong grade for their planes, but they are in there trying to dismantle or trying to re do it. And the Japanese knew that the gas was there, they knew that it was a bomb. One of their techniques was to try to drop bombs on this thing and to explode it, to destroy what the Americans were doing and presumably also to destroy the runway. They would have done an explosion that would have looked like an atomic bomb.
36:14 Low: So while he was out there working, the Japanese dropped bombs right next to the tank. And they started fires–explosions everywhere–and the men were pinned down, the planes were overhead. My dad and one of his other soldiers jumped on their bulldozers and charged their bulldozers into the flames and were able to put out the fire. Obviously if they had been unsuccessful, this big tank of aviation fuel would have exploded and would have killed everybody. That’s the story.
36:48 Low: What’s interesting is that throughout his whole life we knew there was something about a fire, knew there was something about a silver star, but his take on this was: no big doing, I was doing my job. After he died in 2008, I started doing some research. I found this story in books and in some magazines that were published in that time, and they told the story, what had happened. They were quite remarkable. These two men were, by my assessment, war heroes. They saved many lives. And they probably, at least in some levels, changed the course of the war. Because had that air strip been destroyed, it would have been months before they would have been able to launch the attacks against Japan and really hope to turn the tide.
37:32 Yu: Can you give his name?
37:33 Low: Oh yes. My dad, **Lauren I Low**. I will give you the link to his webpage because he tells the story in his own words before he died. And it was recorded, verbatim.
37:45 Yu: What was his rank?
37:46 Low: He was a staff sergeant.

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