Major Kurt Chew-Een Lee is the first Chinese-American officer in the history of the United States Marine Corps. Honored for his heroic performance during the Korean War, Lee is a recipient of the Navy Cross, the second highest honor a marine can receive for valor.
Born and raised in northern California, Lee is the first-born son of Chinese immigrants. As a first-generation American, Lee says he and his siblings “grew up in an American way, but kept Chinese customs.” As a high school student, Lee witnessed the events of World War II and-determined to become an honored American soldier-joined the Junior ROTC. During a time when very few minorities were in command, Private Lee rose through the ranks to become a First Lieutenant. Blowing past cultural barriers, he became Commanding Officer of a Machine-Gun Platoon of Company B, First Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division. His opportunity to earn the respect of his troops and prove his solidarity as an American citizen would soon arise on the rugged mountain ranges of northeast Korea.
Outnumbered by Communist Chinese forces and facing temperatures 20 degrees below zero, Lee boldly exposed himself to enemy fire as he braved the enemy-held slope. His audacious one-man attack forced the Chinese to fire and reveal their battle stations, which gave his platoon the opportunity to capture the base. Despite injuries sustained on the battlefield, Lee went on to lead 500 marines on a grueling night mission to save their fellow soldiers, the Fox Company, at the battle of Chosin Reservoir. In a mission unprecedented in Marine Corps history, Lee’s company fought for every inch of ground and safely evacuated Fox Company to the Port City of Hungnam. As the first officer of Asian descent to be commissioned in the United States Marine Corps, Lee is not only a pioneer but also a shining example of resolve and courage.
We honor you, Kurt Lee.