Honoring Mr. Wayne Wong

This photo of Mr. Wong as a young soldier in Tokyo was selected by Nancy Pelosi to appear in the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for Chinese American World War II Veterans.

75 years ago, Wayne Wong brought home a wooden box from Japan. He buried it under his house, where it sat undisturbed for the better part of a century. It didn’t see the light of day again until he revealed its existence to his son, Curtis. The box was in bad shape; the bottom had rotted away, and its contents appeared to be limited to bits of dust-covered plastic. Upon closer inspection, Curtis discovered that the plastic bits were in fact hundreds of large-format negatives, along with what he describes as all of his father’s worldly belongings from the time: a canteen, a medical kit, and a silver dollar from the Philippines. Since then, he has been gathering information about his father’s US Army career in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War. 

Mr. Wong, who is now 98, grew up in Southern California, near the area that would eventually become Disneyland. His family rented a house and operated a farm on leased land: Chinese people, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, were not allowed to own land in the United States. He and his immediate family had to overcome the many hardships that came with farming at that time, such as poor weather and payments for water rights. They were able to support themselves during the Great Depression by growing vegetables and selling them to the wholesale produce market.

Photo of Mr. Wong’s cot and footlocker.

In 1943, after graduating from high school, Mr. Wong was drafted into the army and went to Basic Training at Camp Roberts, located in Central California. Soon after, he shipped off to fight in the war. After spending weeks at sea, Wayne’s ship was directed towards Midway Island and then to Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines, where fighting was still ongoing.

In August of 1945, the ship received word that the US had dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and news of the surrender of the Emperor of Japan soon followed. A member of the Signal Corps, Mr. Wong was deployed to Japan, to both implement and photographically document the reconstruction of the telecommunications infrastructure in Japan. He arrived in the south of Japan in September of 1945, and traveled around the destroyed city of Hiroshima in order to get to Kyoto. He took many photos during his time in Kyoto, capturing both images of the city and of daily life with his fellow soldiers. Curtis Wong plans to digitize and archive these photos to honor his father’s work and his legacy.

One of Mr. Wong’s portraits of his fellow soldiers.

After completing his army service, Mr. Wong returned to the United States and was awarded the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Army Occupation Medal, and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was recently honored in the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for Chinese American World War II Veterans.

Dr. Louise Lennihan Arts and Sciences Research Grants are offered by the Futures Initiative in an annual competition. Dr. Lennihan was the Interim Provost at the Graduate Center when the Futures Initiative first invited Mr. Wong to give a talk about his work, and she subsequently nominated him for a Graduate Center Honorary Doctorate. Since 2016, the Lennihan grants have been generously supported by Dr. Wong and numerous anonymous contributors. The Futures Initiative has awarded over 30 of these $500 microgrants to graduate students working at the intersections of humanities, arts, science, and technology. Often these grants support the first public research accomplished by their recipients and help set the course for future papers, articles, panel presentations, and grant proposals. In 2022, Dr. Curtis Wong has generously supported additional microgrants in honor of his father, Wayne Wong.

Curtis Wong (Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Graduate Center, CUNY, awarded 2016), principal researcher at Microsoft Research, is an inventor and creator devoted to the future of digital media and interactive media for learning. His recent work has included leading Microsoft’s interactive spatial-temporal data visualization efforts in Excel which allows users to gain insight from the patterns of data rendered on a map over time. In 2008, he fulfilled a long-held dream: leading the vision for the WorldWide Telescope, a free, rich interactive virtual simulation that allows children of all ages to explore and understand the universe. He hopes that the Louise Lennihan Arts & Sciences Student Grants can help students to further their research.


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