Andy Wong

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Andrew Wong was the only Chinese-Canadian to serve in the United States Merchant Marines. « View Transcript

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Wesley Lowe (Interviewer)

Andy Wong was born in Victoria in 1925, the son of a railroad worker. His heart to serve was in the Air Force but when that didn't pan out, he looked for other options and wound up being one of very few Chinese in the United States Merchant Marines. How did you come to be part of the Merchant Marine?

Andy Wong (Interviewee)

A couple of summers during the holidays I worked with the Canada CPR's steamships, and then in those days, if you were Oriental, you were automatically put in the galley. You were either cook, 'messman' or something. But all my life I loved the water so I wanted to go on deck, say I was a seaman, so that's where I went to... Vancouver. I went on the coastal freighters to get my experience on deck.

Wesley

And then how did you wind up in the States?

Andy

I was waiting for another ship in Vancouver when this American Liberty was in port and they needed one seaman, so they put me on it. So that was the agreement between the Allies during the war, is they will supply you with the personnel, you make the trip, and when you come back after the ship is paid off you go back to the port of signing up. So anyway, on that particular ship we went to France, and then we... we... we returned to the... the American side and we paid off in Mobile, Alabama.

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It was real luck because it just so happened, the port representative in... in Mobile, Alabama, happened to be a former Torontonian. And... and he was the port representative which is similar to our harbour master here in Canada. So he said, "Oh you're Canadian." I said, "Yes I am." So he said, "How do you like American ships?" I said, "Oh they're luxurious." They were. They had lots of luxury a aboard. And then so... so... so he said, "Do you want to stay here?" And I... I told him "I can't. I have to go back to Vancouver where I signed on." So he said, "Give me a couple days. I'll see what I can arrange. " So two days later, he came back to the ship with a application and everything for the... to become an American Merchant Seaman. And I, I filled out all my application and then after they assigned me a Z number; that is the number that all the American Merchant Seamen had then. And so I became a merchant, so I stayed down there; then I did all my shipping out in the States.

Wesley

What does it mean to be in the U.S. Merchant Marine? What, what did you do what, or what was your function in the war?

Andy

Well without... without us we would have lost the war. We carry all the supplies, from bread to tanks; and an army cannot exist without the Merchant Marine or the Merchant Navy in, in the, in, in a Canadian sense. We carry everything everywhere, and I got in during the tail end of the war. And right after the war we had to carry ...... all the ...... relief supplies to all the ...... war-torn nations in Europe and around the world. Well I went to Finland, Denmark, Germany, France. England was our... usually was our destination, and I went to the South America. I went to the West Indies. I went to Korea. And for Liberty that was, we did pretty well because our top speed was around 10 knots. We weren't a fast. See the when they built the Liberties, they were meant to be disposable. In fact, when the war started as, if they made completed one trip they would've paid themselves off. And the Americans built 2,700 of them during the war; it was huge.

Wesley

Would you be considered... like as part of the Merchant Marine, would... would you be considered a civilian, or you would be considered?

Andy

No we were.

Wesley

You were?

Andy

That was just a wartime occupation. We were civilian.

Wesley

You were civilians?

Andy

And also called draft dodgers (laughs). We were.

Wesley

Who called you draft dodgers?

Andy

The armed forces; but they didn't know that they real... had to rely on us to get the supplies. They couldn't fight a war without us, and we were the target of the U-boats. That's why they wanna [sic] get rid of us; so that they can get the supplies.

Wesley

The armed forces didn't give you the respect that you needed?

Andy

We weren't recognized until 1990 (microphone noise).

Wesley

Really? Oh, that's... that's quite something.

Andy

That's right that, my discharge I showed you? That... that's a Armed Forces discharge.

Up until then, I just got the discharge from the Merchant Marine.

Wesley

What would you like to say to the younger generation?

Andy

Be part of the community. I guess you notice in the Chinese community they tend to stick together. I would say branch out, reach out. It's, it's a very... it's very rich out there. You learn a lot more; you... you gain more friends and, and you understand each other better.

Did you Know?

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Interviewee: Andy Wong

Duration: 5:51

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