MILWAUKEE — Dr. David Toy was just 17 years old and a student at West Division High School in Milwaukee when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He knew then that he wanted to join the U.S. Army and serve in World War II, but when he went to sign up, he was told he was too young.
"It was a no brainer to go into the service," Toy said. "We all went down to the recruiting service. They turned us down because we were too young."
But just a few years later in 1943, Toy was drafted. He was dispatched to the China-Burma-India Front as a technician.
"My job was to encode and decode messages," Toy said.
Toy was born in Hong Kong, but became a citizen while serving.
He was one of over 20,000 Chinese-Americans to serve in World War II. Between 1941 and 1946, 1 in 5 Chinese-Americans joined the armed forces.
But it wasn't until recently that those veterans were formally honored for the sacrifices they made.
"We know thousands of Chinese-Americans that served our nation during World War II, including Dr. Toy, unfortunately did not receive the proper recognition that they deserved for their service to the United States of America," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin).
In 2018, the Chinese American World War II Congressional Medal Act was signed, authorizing all those who served between 1941 and 1946 to receive a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal.
On Wednesday, Sen. Baldwin presented the medal to Dr. Toy.
Other military groups have also received the award, including the Tuskegee Airmen, the Native American Code Talkers, the Women's Air Service Pilots and the Filipino American Veterans.