“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” – Tecumseh
To the Unconquered —
The above quote is from the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, who was among the most celebrated Native American leaders in history and was known as a strong and eloquent orator who promoted tribal unity. He was also ambitious, willing to take risks, and make significant sacrifices to repel the settlers from Native American lands in the Old Northwest Territory (think Indiana).
In the spring of 1930, a bronze bust of Tecumseh was mounted on a pedestal of Vermont marble adorned with the Naval Academy seal, and erected on its present site at the Academy from which the grim old warrior gazes eternally toward the main entrance of Bancroft Hall, the midshipman dormitory.
I have always admired strength in purpose, loyalty and undying commitment to the family, the Tribe. Tecumseh was a man much to be admired.
I cite the poignant quote by the great Chief because I was privileged to meet an incredible man on his 100th birthday a year ago October. I will tell you just a little about this humble man who lived a long life and was a true Spartan overcoming many obstacles and adversities thrown into his path. The man’s name was Ali B. Kwong, father of my good friend Ray (USNA ’78).
This man did not weep or cry for a little more time…he sang his song until he was 101 and then God took this hero home. This is a man who survived and ultimately escaped from the Japanese invasions of Shanghai (22 engagements between 1932-37), joined the Merchant Marine and survived a German U-boat attack on his way to New York City, enlisted in the US ARMY (which was a rapid way for Chinese immigrants to become US Citizens) only to find himself back in the WWII Pacific fighting where he was awarded a Bronze Star, he also happened to be on Tinian Island when the Enola Gay landed to load the A-Bomb destined for Hiroshima.
He made his way back to Shanghai to find and marry his wife of 72 years, Ying C, re-enlisted in the regular Army and fought in Korea, where he would sneak across enemy lines to spy on the N. Koreans and Chinese, wearing different uniforms, subsequently joined an Army special operations unit as a civilian and broke codes for national intelligence, broke into embassies on behalf of the US Army, interrogated defectors, and the list goes on.
His son Ray wished that I had known him earlier in his life so he and I could share his exploits in the Intelligence World, such as breaking the Chinese Integrated Air Defense Network, Decoding the first time the Chinese did the nuclear bomb test and several other…I am sure classified operations.
Like Tecumseh, he was willing to take risks, and make significant sacrifices for his tribe…his tribe was America. He did all of this with a 3rd grade education and teaching himself English. The man was Invictus…he was UNCONQUERED. He was a true war hero and we should all sing his song.
Ali, Jim, and Ray at Ali’s 100th Birthday
Ray, Ali, Jim, and Ying at Ali’s 101st Birthday
I feel blessed to have met this man (only twice) but even without the above knowledge I instinctively felt I was around someone great, someone to be admired, someone rare…I was right!
I am very proud of you all for what you do and how you do it…I just wanted to share with you…this extraordinary story of a humble man who did so much for his family and this great nation of ours!
God Bless and Remain Unconquered,
P.S. Anecdotally, the Tecumseh Bronze bust at the Naval Academy has become not only the “God of 2.0” — the passing grade point average at the academy — but also the idol to whom loyal midshipmen give prayers and sacrificial offerings of pennies. Midshipmen offer a left-handed salute in tribute to Tecumseh, and they toss pennies his way for good luck in exams and athletic contests. Additionally, each year, Tecumseh is decked out in a coat of “war paint” for Parents’ Weekend in August, Homecoming in the fall, before Army-Navy contests and for Commissioning Week.