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San Jose Man Among Last Living World War II Chinese-American U.S. Army Veterans

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Navy veteran George Gange is playing the music but he says his 95-year-old neighbor John Buck Chew is the one who leaves a song in his heart.

"He's an amazing World War II Army veteran," Gange said.

Chew is one of about 20,000 Chinese Americans who served in the second world war and veterans groups believe he's one of fewer than 300 still alive today.

"I was proud to be in the Army, to help my country," Chew said.

The San Francisco native was drafted into the U.S. Army right out of high school.

He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, then served as a tank driver in the Philippines and in Japan from 1945 to the end of his enlistment in 1946.

He recalls when the Japanese fired mortars into their camp.

"The tank commander looked for caves in the hills, we fired into the hills, where the caves are at, trying to rout them out of there," Chew remembered.

For his military service, this husband, father and grandfather received the Congressional gold medal.

But what inspires neighbors like Gange is how the former flower grower has served his community almost every day for the past forty years.

John has walked a three-mile stretch of their Berryessa neighborhood in San Jose picking up litter.

"They toss the trash out into the street. That's wrong! Makes the neighborhood look terrible so, since I'm walking, I might as well do my part," Chew said.

Since he started using a walker in 2019, he can't pick up as much trash but, on his walks, he still shares with his neighbors some of the persimmons he picks and dries each year from his 30-year-old tree.

"It's inspiring to see somebody who is very kind, compassionate and community-involved despite his age," Gange said.

In honor of Chew's 95th birthday in April, Gange urges folks to donate at least 95 cents to their favorite charity to help veterans or those recovering from COVID-19.

Chew is also set to graduate with the Class of 2021 at Independence High School in June.

After the war, he started a flower-growing business and never went back for his diploma.

Chew says he just keeps going.

"That's the worst thing to sit down and say, 'I'm going to retire.' Just keep moving," he said, after Gange played patriotic songs on his Filipino banjo, called a laud.

Chew soldiers on, one step and one patriotic song at a time.

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