Boxing gloves tell war, friendship story in Mons
Story by Marie-Lise Baneton on 09/06/2019
CHIVRES, Belgium — A pair of boxing gloves came to complete the collections of the Mons Memorial Museum Aug. 30 during the commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the town’s liberation. More than historic artifacts, they represent how fortunes of war can cross paths of individuals in the most unexpected manner.
The gloves belonged to Tech. Sgt. Daniel Lau, an American Soldier assigned to the U.S. Army 28th Infantry (Lightning) Division, who met the Bauwens family in their home in December 1944.
Tech. Sgt. Lau and his comrades-in-arms were in Mons as replacement troops for the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the U.S. Army. The squad taken up the entire area and some of the Soldiers found shelter in the Bauwens’ tavern. Marcel Bauwens, then 14, noticed Lau could not find a place to sleep. The teenager gave him his bed and slept on the floor, in the Soldier’s sleeping bag.
The grateful 25-year-old Soldier had not slept in sheets for months. He befriended the family and gave the teenager his boxing gloves as a sign of appreciation before heading to the Ardennes front a few days later.
A new friendship was born and both families are still in touch to this day. It is no coincidence that Bauwens named their daughter Danielle after the young Soldier.
The veteran, who just celebrated his 100th birthday this past summer, was not able to travel to Belgium. His son Jeff, who now serves as a Honorary Consul of Belgium in Hawaii, made the trip to Mons to tell the story of the Chinese Americans during World War II and, in particular, his father’s accounts in the war.
“Every trip that we’ve made here, they’ve tried to give [the boxing gloves] back to us. But we said no, they really belong here and now we’re very fortunate to have them remain here in Mons in this museum,” said Jeff Lau.
When the United States entered World War II, about 29,000 people of Chinese ancestry lived in Hawaii and another 78,000 lived on the mainland. By war’s end, over 13,000 were serving in all branches of the Army Ground Forces and Army Air Forces.
“There is a long story behind how the Chinese American Soldier ended up here, not only surviving the Pearl Harbor attacks while at Schofield Barracks but then also the Hrtgen Forest Battle, despite being wounded three times,” said Jeff Lau.
His father had no plans of joining the military. He was a star athlete at the University of Hawaii and was about to sign a professional baseball contract when he was drafted. He was assigned to the 298th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Battalion and received training in preparation for a potential war.
“The day after the Pearl Harbor attack, the military took all of the Japanese Americans out of the 100th Battalion and set them aside. Many of them were University of Hawaii graduates, ROTC cadets, and they were shocked that they took all their weapons away,” said Jeff Lau.
“They immediately came back and volunteered, but they wouldn’t let them fight so they ended up being assigned to a construction brigade, helping to create the fences around the University of Hawaii and Schofield Barracks,” he explained.
“Chinese Americans, however, were not assigned to separate units so they got scattered all around the world,” he added.
His father was on leave during the Pearl Harbor attacks. He was at home, about 10 miles from the attack. The minute he and his friends heard bombs go off, they rushed to Schofield Barracks, only to see Pearl Harbor in flames. They immediately grabbed their weapons and tried to help in any way they could. They ended up at the Marine Corps Air Station to set up defenses against potential enemy attempts to take the islands.
“My father volunteered for the Army Air Corps. His other buddies, who were all Chinese Americans, volunteered to be fighter pilots. His first friend ended up becoming a fighter pilot and shot down several Messerschmitts before his own aircraft crashed in Belgium,” Jeff Lau said.
Tech. Sgt. Daniel Lau received pilot training at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also met his future wife. He got his wings but shortly before he received his commission, the Army decided to send him to North Carolina and trained him for the Normandy invasion that was to occur a year and a half later.
“A number of my father’s friends tried to fly in the Flying Tigers. A number of them were scattered in the fighting units in the South Pacific. My dad and a few of his cohorts –interestingly enough — were sent to Europe,” said Jeff Lau.
Upon training completion, the Soldiers boarded ocean liners in New York and left for England. They arrived in Europe Oct. 24, 1944 and were stationed in Bournemouth.
Lau’s unit was one of the first units to cross the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine and then went all the way up to Berlin. By that time, he was already recuperating from his three wounds in Paris and then sent back to Hawaii.
“After 50 years, I tried to get something out of him,” said Jeff Lau. “He said his job as a baseball player was to crawl underneath the windows of the buildings and throw grenades through the open windows. He said he did pretty good until one time he hit the bottom sill and the grenade came right back down. The saving grace for him was he was a pretty good runner so he was able to run around the corner, dive and survive his own grenade.”
Most of their casualties rest at the Henri-Chapelle U.S. Military Cemetery in Belgium.
“The last time we were there with the 28th ID guys, the remaining survivors were really touched. They thought My gosh, 50 years later, we are still alive, we are still in one piece, we could afford to come back and relive those sites.’ Many of them never talked about it for 50 years until then. And that’s when they all started breaking down, at Henri-Chapelle,” Jeff Lau said.
At war’s end, service members were recognized for their sacrifices and most major minorities were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
“The 20,000 Chinese Americans didn’t get the same recognition, because they were scattered in all the fields; unlike all the other groups, they were not in a specific unit,” said Jeff Lau.
“The Chinese Americans got zero recognition as a group until this year. There is only about 50 Chinese American survivors left. We have already recognized about 150 to 200 families, just in Hawaii alone. There are large groups in San Francisco, Austin, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. We will ensure all the remaining survivors receive the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal,” he concluded.