top of page

Lau Sing Kee

Born in 1896 in Saratoga, California, Lau Sing Kee was educated in American schools in Oakland. In 1917, he enlisted in the United States Army, joining the 306th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Infantry Division, known as the "Statue of Liberty Division." This division, made up of New York City draftees, had a patch insignia depicting the famous icon and was unofficially called the "Cosmopolitans" due to its diverse composition.

The 77th Infantry Division arrived in France in April 1918 during World War I. They engaged in their first action at the Battle of Château-Thierry in July 1918, enduring the horrors of artillery shelling, aerial bombardment, machine gun fire, and poison gas attacks. Private Sing Kee had a crucial role as a runner, responsible for carrying orders and information across the battlefield, a perilous task.

During a heavy shelling in August, all of Sing Kee's comrades were either killed or wounded. Despite being gassed and severely wounded himself, he refused evacuation and single-handedly operated the regimental message center relay station for 24 hours. For this extraordinary heroism, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest combat medal in the United States, becoming the first Chinese American to receive a combat medal in the country's history. He was also awarded the Purple Heart by the US Army and the Croix de Guerre with a silver gilt star by France, indicating recognition by a French corps commander.

Sing Kee's heroics extended beyond the battlefield, where his actions reportedly saved a French unit. The official division history noted that the strength of the division lay in its cosmopolitan composition. The 77th Infantry Division showed its appreciation by promoting Sing Kee from Private to Color Sergeant, a position of great trust.

After returning from World War I, Sing Kee faced challenges in finding employment due to discrimination and immigration policies. He ultimately worked as a translator for the US Immigration Service but switched to a career as a restaurant manager and later became an immigration broker and travel agent. However, he got involved in some illegal activities to help people circumvent US immigration laws.

In 1956, Sing Kee was convicted, sentenced to prison for 2 ½ years, and fined $6,000. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 brought changes to US immigration laws, opening opportunities for Chinese Americans, but it came too late for Sing Kee.

He passed away in 1967 on Staten Island in New York at the age of 71 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Sing Kee's life was marked by his heroism in World War I, his role in a diverse and divided America, and the challenges he faced during a turbulent period in the nation's history.


bottom of page