In honor of those who served our country in the armed forces, this San Marino Tribune article continues a series of individual salutes to our courageous veterans.
By Mitch Lehman
We’ll step out on a limb and say that Tommy Wong is the only engineer in San Marino. No, not the type chained to a drafting table, but the kind most little boys wanted to be when they grow up: driving the train and blowing the whistle.
But operating a step outside the norm is nothing new to the 19-year resident. From the time he was barely 10 years old, Wong found himself in somewhat unfamiliar territory.
“We immigrated to the United States and I remember landing in Minneapolis,” said Wong. “I stepped out of the propeller plane and it was snowing. I saw big piles of snow all around the airport. I was a little boy from Hong Kong and I had never seen this before. Everyone had to wait behind me because I was so shocked.”
The difference in climate was mirrored by a clash of cultures.
“We were known then as Orientals, not Asians,” he explains. “In our whole high school sports conference, we were the only Asian family. I was a novelty item. People would literally walk up to me and touch my straight, black hair. Everyone was blonde and named ‘Anderson,’ but everyone was so kind.”
Tommy’s family opened a restaurant called The Rice Bowl, he recalls, chuckling.
“All we had to do was put a Chinese name on something and it sold like hotcakes,” Wong remembers.
Tommy was 21 years old in 1969 and was back in Hong Kong trying to bring his mother to the United States when he received a letter. A job deferment had kept him out of the military, but “they tracked me down,” he said. “They told me if I didn’t report I would be arrested.”
Within a week – his straight, black hair now residing on the Army barber’s floor – Wong was at Fort Knox for basic training.
For the full story, see the print edition of the San Marino Tribune, or download the e-edition.