It was 1931. Herbert Hoover was President of the United States. Our nation was in the midst of the Great Depression. The law prohibiting the sales, transport, and consumption of alcohol would be in effect for two more years.
The year 1931 also marked a milestone in the history of the American Legion. Sixteen trailblazing World War I Chinese American veterans who called San Francisco's Chinatown home established the first all Chinese-American American Legion Post. The national office of the American Legion officially chartered Cathay Post No. 384 on August 24, 1931. After its establishment, the Post became involved in many activities supporting veterans and local civic causes.
Members of Cathay Post No. 384.
During World War II, nearly 15,000 Chinese-Americans and immigrants of Chinese descent joined our Armed Forces to defend our nation. Those men and women served our country despite racist exclusion laws that barred Chinese from emigrating to the United States and Chinese residents from becoming U.S. citizens. The Chinese who served in our military branches during World War II are believed to have been over 20% of the Chinese population of our nation.
Many World War II veterans of Chinese descent returning to San Francisco joined Cathay Post No. 384. With a membership total that swelled to over 1,000, Cathay Post No. 384 became one of the largest posts in California. One local news source stated: "A THOUSAND MEMBERS - When Cathay Post 384, San Francisco, and Edward H. Lorenson (Post), Watsonville, reached a membership of one thousand (members each), there was good reason for celebrating. Only twenty other Posts out of California's more than seven hundred can boast that record."
By the 1950s, the leaders of Cathay Post No. 384 recognized the need to establish a permanent headquarters for its members and the community. After much hard work, planning, and generous donations from members and supporters, the Post purchased its current two-story headquarters building at 1524 Powell Street. Today, Cathay Post No. 384 is the only American Legion Post in San Francisco to occupy the building it owns. Purchasing the building turned out to be a wise financial investment, in light of the scarcity and high cost of real estate in San Francisco. It would also play a prominent role in saving the Post from near dissolution.
While the Post's membership grew significantly during the 1940s and 1950s, by the 1960s and 1970s, the Post's membership declined significantly. The membership problems plaguing Cathay Post were not unique; American Legion Posts in general were having a difficult go at attracting members and retaining membership. Sadly, by the 1990s, the Post essentially became "inactive." The building was in disrepair and the Post was doing little more than collecting rent from the church that occupied the first floor. In 2000, longtime Post member John Nelson began the arduous task of repairing and maintaining the headquarters building. He also ensured that paperwork was filed with the American Legion to continue the Post's active status.
John's efforts and determination to rebuild Cathay Post No. 384 led to a meeting with Bok Pon in 2002. Bok, who wanted to join an Asian-American post, was directed by the Department of California in Sacramento to contact John. When they met, John immediately found that Bok shared his passion and commitment to revitalize the Post.
From 2003 to 2007, Bok Pon served as the Post's Commander while John Nelson served as the Adjutant. Commander Pon recruited new and past members, raised capital for the Post's treasury, and infused a sense of pride and energy in making Cathay Post No. 384 a vital part of the community dedicated to public service. Under his leadership, the Post would become a welcome place where members and the community could visit and socialize, hold events, and provide support to disabled and homebound veterans.
Commander Pon was committed to public service and instilled that sense of dedication into the members of Cathay Post No. 384. Through his efforts, the Post started and continues to maintain a trust fund that pays the full tuition for returning veterans attending City College of San Francisco. He also created awards for firefighters and law-enforcement officers which are presented at the Post's annual banquet to honor those heroes.
In 2006, with a revitalized and growing Post, Commander Pon declared Adjutant John Nelson an "Official Hero" of the Post. The commander stated that, "(f)or many years, Comrade Nelson stood all alone, walking at his post, and guarding the general welfare of Cathay Post No. 384." That year, Commander Pon was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and given six months to live. Refusing to accept that prognosis, he began the next day with his usual exercise regimen of 100 push-ups and a several mile run.
Commander Pon continued serving Cathay Post No. 384 and the community with dignity and pride. Three years after his diagnosis, the indefatigable ex-paratrooper learned that he had but a few weeks to live. That did not deter Commander Pon from flying to Washington, D.C. to complete a few final missions, including a meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Commander Pon will always be remembered for his smile, dedication, leadership, vision, and contributions for the betterment of the Post and the community it serves.
Members of Cathay Post No. 384 with Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2003.
Today, more than eight decades after its establishment, Cathay Post No. 384 continues to be the reality of the vision of its 16 Chinese-American veteran founders. With its diverse membership of veterans and support group of non-veterans, the Post remains as strong and vibrant as ever.
Cathay Post No. 384 is proud to make its building available for community use. Cathay Post No. 384 allows youth and seniors to use its community hall for free and implements many programs that aim to teach the community about earthquake and fire safety.
Cathay Post No. 384 is comprised of 30% youth members highly motivates the youth to carry on its mission and legacy.
Cathay Post No. 384 of the American Legion is committed to paying tribute to the Chinese American veterans who have defended our nation from the American Civil War to present with character, determination and valor. Their dedication, duty, and honor to our country will be memorialized by our post activities.
The contributions of our Chinese America military personnel will also serve to educate the nation and world about the horrors of war as evidenced by the collections and art exhibits which will be displayed through relevant educational programs.
Promotion of patriotism and the focusing of Chinese American community concerns is a part of our standard programs in order to reach all areas of our communities and to encourage volunteerism. Cathay Post No. 384 is also committed to serving the community by sponsoring events and organizations. These groups are:
--California Boys State
--Chinatown Boy Scouts
--Chinatown Economic Development Group (Appointed by the Mayor)
--Chinatown Neighborhood Center
--Chinatown Stockton Street Corridor Committee for Underground Light Rail
--Chorus Entertainment for Seniors
--Miss Asian Pageant Logistics Support
--Police and Fire Homeland Security Trainings
--SF Immigration Commission Retreat Meetings
--Town Hall Meetings