During this time when Asian Americans continue to be questioned for their loyalty and are still considered perpetual foreigners, it is worthwhile on US Memorial Day to note Asian Americans who fought and died for their country. One such Asian American is Henry Chin, who was part of the famous Lost Battalion of World War 1. The story of the Lost Battalion became one of the most noted war time stories in the United States during that time, spawning news paper accounts and even a movie in 1919. Henry Chin is also portrayed in the 2001 movie The Lost Battalion.
The Lost Battalion, led by Major Charles Whittlesey, was a group of soldiers from the US Army 77th Infantry Division who fought to capture an objective and were then surrounded by German forces. While taking enormous losses (> 72% casualty rate), they survived running low on food, water, and ammunition, German counter-attacks, and artillery barrages from US forces. Their resistance provided a distraction to German forces that contributed to an Allied breakthrough. Whittlesey and others received the Medal of Honor. Another famous Asian American WWI war hero, Lau Sing Kee, served in this division, although I can find no evidence that he was in the Lost Battalion incident.
More than 100 years after the Lost Battalion, it is hard to express just how much they captured the imagination of the US public at the time. The story gathered a lot of press at the time, particularly from famed newspaperman and short story writer Damon Runyon. A movie was created in 1919 that reenacted the story. Almost everyone in the United States knew the story. In the novel The Great Gatsby, Gatsby refers to war experiences that echoes the Lost Battalion. A number of books were published over the past 100 years about the Lost Battalion. The monument shown above was erected in 2008.
Getting back to Henry Chin, I couldn’t find a picture of him. As I mentioned, he is portrayed in the 2001 The Lost Battalion movie, but he isn’t on screen very long. The movie emphasizes that the 77th was mostly composed of New Yorkers, many of who were recent immigrants and whose loyalty was questioned but still were willing to fight for the their new country (it seems that some things do not change 100 years later). I thought it was fairly good (it has a 79% Rotten Tomatoes score) and would recommend it.
The Lost Battalion can be streamed or purchased on Amazon Prime. For a thorough overview on the Lost Battalion, this is a excellent talk. Our other US Memorial Day stories can be found here.