Major Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the first Asian-American U.S. Marine Corps officer, died on Monday in Washington, D.C. at the age of 88 from a heart attack.
During WWII, an eager Lee — who is Chinese-American — enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps to fight, but was instead based at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as a language instructor.
During the Korean War in 1950, Lee got his opportunity to fight and was commander of a machine gun platoon, where his heroic actions in a clash with Chinese forces on November 2 earned him numerous military honors, including the second highest military decoration, the Navy Cross.
Lee later fought in the Vietnam War, where he earned a Purple Heart. Only a few weeks ago he was the honorary grand marshal of San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade. Lee is not only the first Asian-American, but the first non-white man to enlist in the Marine Corps.