Charly Haley, Published September 22 2012
WWII vet receives honorary diploma
“In February of 1943, I got this great big yellow sheet letter with a great big word at the top. … It said, ‘Greetings,’ ” Wong said. “I knew they were going to draft me.”
Wong served in the U.S. Army for three years during World War II, participating in several battle campaigns in the Pacific, including the Philippines where he served in the 773rd Amphibious Tank Battalion.
Wong didn’t complete high school at Fargo Central, but on Saturday the 88-year-old received an honorary diploma from the school district during the Fargo North High Hall of Fame banquet.
“I should feel honored, but I think my daughter did this to me,” Wong said before the ceremony at the North Dakota State University Alumni Center. “I’m kind of nervous.”
Wong’s daughter, Renee Proue, who lives near Roseville, Minn., close to her father, said she heard about the option of honorary high school diplomas. She also remembered hearing her father talk about how he never completed high school in Fargo, so she worked with Fargo North Principal Andy Dahlen to find a way to honor him.
The North Dakota Legislature passed a bill in January 2001 that allows school districts to award honorary diplomas to World War II veterans who didn’t get to complete high school.
“It’s very fitting,” Dahlen said. “This is just a great way to recognize someone who’s made significant contributions.”
There have been a few honorary diplomas given out in the Fargo-Moorhead area over the years.
“It makes it really special,” Proue said. “I think the World War II veterans are a very special group of people.”
When Wong was drafted, he was sent to Fort Snelling, Minn., and then went to training in California, followed by more training in Hawaii, where he was present for the West Loch disaster in 1944 at Pearl Harbor.
“As we were getting ready, all of a sudden across the bay, there’s one big explosion, then a few more, then explosions everywhere,” Wong said.
He described how he and his fellow soldiers ran away from the explosions. “Everything was raining down on us … parts of humans, parts of guns.”
One of Wong’s friends got some metal caught in a tendon, “but they sewed him up,” Wong said. “He didn’t get out of action.”
Life in Fargo
Wong was born in Fargo, but his family moved to China when he was in first grade, he said. They returned to Fargo when he was 13.
“I couldn’t speak much English,” Wong said. He said his family lived in a basement. He and his siblings would go to school, and then come home to help cook at his dad’s restaurant.
“We’d walk to school, it was 12 blocks, and there’s no school backpack in those days,” Wong said.
Before he was drafted, he sold Forum newspapers for extra money.
“Nobody had any money back in those days,” he said.
Wong said he’d yell on street corners twice a day and made 50 cents for selling 10 papers.
After the war, Wong returned to Fargo, where he took his dad’s place at the restaurant.
A few years later, he moved to St. Paul. He eventually started the House of Wong in the Roseville Shopping Center with his wife, Laura. He ran the restaurant for 43 years, and then passed it to his children, who sold it.
Wong still stops by the restaurant.
“On the edge of boredom, I’ll still go down there and talk,” he said.
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701)235-7311