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First Name: Francis

Last Name: Wai

Birthplace: Honolulu, HI, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Brown

Date of Birth: 14 April 1917

Date of Death: 20 October 1944

Rank: Captain

Years Served: 1940 - 1944
Francis Brown Wai

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Francis Brown Wai

Captain, U.S. Army

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Captain Francis Brown Wai (14 April 1917 - 20 October 1944) was a U.S. Army officer who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions during World War II.

Francis Brown Wai was born on 14 April 1917, the child of a Native Hawaiian mother and a Chinese father. Growing up, he often surfed with Duke Kahanamoku, regarded as the father of surfing, and Buster Crabbe, who later became an actor. He attended the Punahou School in Honolulu where he earned athletic letters in track, football and baseball. He went to college at the Sacramento Junior College before transferring to UCLA. At UCLA, he was a four-sport athlete and graduated in 1939 with a Bachelor's Degree in Banking and Finance. He intended to work alongside his father in real estate and banking.

Military Service

After his graduation, Wai enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard and was called into active duty before the United States' entrance into World War II. He received a commission as an officer and completed Officer Candidate School in 1941. His commission was rare at a time when few Asian-Americans were allowed to serve in combat leadership roles. He was eventually assigned to the 34th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division with the rank of Captain. The 24th Division, based at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, was among the first American units to be involved in the Pacific Theater, exchanging fire with Japanese aircraft during the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In May 1943, Captain Wai deployed to Australia with the 24th Infantry Division and by 19 September 1943, the unit was at Camp Caves, near Rockhampton, on the eastern coast of Australia. Wai and the rest of the unit began intensive combat training. With training completed, the division moved to Goodenough Island on 31 January 1944, to prepare for Operation Reckless, the amphibious invasion of Hollandia, Netherlands New Guinea (now Jayapura, in the Papua province of Indonesia).

The 24th landed at Tanahmerah Bay on 22 April 1944 and seized the Hollandia Airdrome despite torrential rain and marshy terrain. Shortly after the Hollandia landing, the division's 34th Infantry Regiment moved to Biak to reinforce the 41st Infantry Division. Wai's regiment captured the Sorido and Borokoe airdromes before returning to the division on Hollandia in July. In two months, Wai and his unit had crossed New Guinea and recaptured three airdromes from the Japanese.

After occupying the Hollandia area, Wai was assigned to X Corps of the Sixth United States Army in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines. On 20 October 1944, his division was paired with the 1st Cavalry Division within X Corps, and the two divisions made an assault landing at Leyte. When Captain Wai landed at Red Beach, the Japanese forces stationed on the island concentrated their fire on the waves of incoming troops from gun positions located in a palm grove bounded by submerged rice paddies. When Wai arrived on the beach in the fifth wave, he found the soldiers there to be leaderless, disorganized, and pinned down on the open beach. Assuming command, he moved through the rice paddies, without cover. His demeanor and example inspired the other men to follow him. With deliberate disregard of his own personal safety, he advanced without cover to draw Japanese machine gun and rifle fire, thus exposing the locations of the entrenched Japanese forces. Systematically, the Japanese positions were assaulted and overcome. Wai was killed leading an assault against the last Japanese pillbox in the area. For his actions during the landing on Leyte, Wai was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military's second highest award for valor.

In 1996, amid allegations of prejudicial treatment of Asian Americans in uniform in World War II, Congress directed Louis Caldera, then Secretary of the Army, to conduct a full review of military records. The review concluded that 22 Asian Americans, including Wai, did not receive full consideration for the Medal of Honor and in 2000, Wai's Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Of those whose medals were upgraded, Wai was one of only two who did not belong to the predominantly Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Infantry Battalion; the other being Rudolph B. Davila of the 7th Infantry. At a White House ceremony on 21 June 2000, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to 22 Asian Americans whose Distinguished Service Crosses were upgraded to the Medal of Honor. All but 7 were awarded posthumously. To date[update], Wai is the only Chinese-American and the first Asian-American officer to receive the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Citation: Captain Francis B. Wai distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action, on 20 October 1944, in Leyte, Philippine Islands. Captain Wai landed at Red Beach, Leyte, in the face of accurate, concentrated enemy fire from gun positions advantageously located in a palm grove bounded by submerged rice paddies. Finding the first four waves of American soldiers leaderless, disorganized, and pinned down on the open beach, he immediately assumed command. Issuing clear and concise orders, and disregarding heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire, he began to move inland through the rice paddies without cover. The men, inspired by his cool demeanor and heroic example, rose from their positions and followed him. During the advance, Captain Wai repeatedly determined the locations of enemy strong points by deliberately exposing himself to draw their fire. In leading an assault upon the last remaining Japanese pillbox in the area, he was killed by its occupants. Captain Wai's courageous, aggressive leadership inspired the men, even after his death, to advance and destroy the enemy. His intrepid and determined efforts were largely responsible for the rapidity with which the initial beachhead was secured. Captain Wai's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Purple Heart
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Philippine Liberation Medal

Death and Burial

Captain Francis Brown Wai was killed in action on 20 October 1944. After the war, his remains were interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in, Honolulu, HI, in Section Q, Grave 1194.

Honoree ID: 1693   Created by: MHOH




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