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Hero rediscovered in Lawrence

Hero rediscovered in Lawrence

Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 1:30 am

By Terry Date tdate@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — The discovery of a street square plaque in the woods at St. Mary cemetery has renewed reflection on the ultimate sacrifice made 70 years ago by a soldier from Lawrence.

U.S. Army Pfc. David “Buck” Lee was the first Chinese-American from Lawrence killed in World War II. He was just 22 years old and attached to a tank battalion in the historic Battle of the Bulge.

It was a pivotal battle waged in frozen forests and deep snow, the bloodiest of the war for American soldiers, about 19,000 of whom died fighting the German offensive in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

Lee was killed in Luxembourg on Jan. 10, 1945, and is buried in that country in the Luxembourg American Cemetery.

On Saturday, exactly 70 years later to the day, veterans and members of the Boston Chinatown American Legion Post 328 will take part in a re-dedication ceremony honoring Lee at 10 a.m. at the corner of Hampshire and Common streets in Lawrence. 

The public is invited to the ceremony. 

The Lee family lived nearby, at 32 Hampshire St. above a Chinese restaurant, according to local records.

The re-dedication on Saturday will include unveiling an inscribed granite monument set with the original bronze Pfc. David “Buck” Lee Square plaque.

The discovery of that bronze plaque at St. Mary cemetery, and the curiosity of its director, refocused attention on Lee’s sacrifice.

DISCOVERIES MADE

Two or three years ago, a worker at St. Mary-Immaculate Conception Cemetery found the original marker in hillside woods just off a cemetery road, said James Jacobs, the cemetery’s director.

Jacobs, 59, a lifelong Lawrence resident, said it’s unclear how the plaque landed in the woods.

Years back, Lawrence replaced a number of memorial bronze markers with ones made of less expensive material because people were stealing the bronze plaques, according to Jaime Melendez, head of the Lawrence Veterans Services Office.

The David B. Lee Square memorial marker now posted at the corner of Hampshire and Common streets is one of those replacement markers.

In any event, Jacobs was familiar with the location where the original Lee bronze marker had stood.

“Right away when I saw it, I knew where it belonged — David B. Lee Square, I had driven by a million times,” he said.

As a grade school kid he shined shoes in that same neighborhood, hauling his box, rags and polish into barrooms, earning 15 cents a shine, a quarter if he was lucky.

After the plaque was found, Jacobs put his polishing skills to work on it, cleaning the bronze.

He also checked in with local archivist Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library to learn about Lee.

He found out that Lee had served under the command of Gen. George Patton. He also learned that Lee fought in the Battle of the Bulge, making him an American hero, part of the Greatest Generation.

Jacobs was intrigued even more when he found out that Lee was of Chinese descent, originally from Canton, China. He had been in the United States for six years before he served in the military.

Jacobs thought it would be terrific if, in the future, people who walked by the corner of Hampshire and Common had a chance to pause and learn about Lee — especially the young people of Lawrence, including students at Northern Essex Community College. 

To this end, Jacobs reached out to Michael Colizzi of Colizzi Memorials in Methuen.

The Methuen company donated the granite memorial inscribed with information about Lee and set the original plaque in the monument.

DEDICATION PLANNED

Soon people will be able to stop at David B. Lee Square and read about Lee.

Jacobs also reached out to Jaime Melendez and the office of Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, for their help arranging a re-dedication ceremony for the monument.

Melendez sent Lawrence’s postmaster a letter asking permission to place the monument on U.S. Post Office grounds by the corner of Common and Hampshire.

The postmaster graciously said yes, and offered the post office building as a place to serve refreshments after the ceremony, Melendez said.

Melendez also reached out to Boston Chinatown American Legion Post 328 and to the Boston lodge of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance.

The Chinatown Post 328 commander is Matthew Seto, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, who served from 2001 to 2005 and was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the invasion.

Seto said in an interview that it was an honor for him, as a young veteran, to be a part of the re-dedication, to honor a member of the Greatest Generation who was of Chinese ancestry and had served under Gen. Patton.

Post 328 still has a few members who served in WW II, Seto said.

A contingent from the post marched in a 1946 parade in Lawrence honoring Lee. Local police and business people had key roles in organizing the parade and exercises.

They drew many people, including Lee's family and friends, as well as veterans groups, and local, state and national political figures.

For the upcoming rededication ceremony the city of Lawrence will read a proclamation honoring Lee for presentation to the Lee Family Name Foundation, a national organization, in the hopes that they will locate a relative of David B. Lee, Melendez said.

Melendez knows of no Lee relatives in the area.

LEARNING ABOUT LEE

Not a lot is known about Lee.

A front page article in The Evening Tribune from Jan. 23, 1945, says Lee lived at 32 Hampshire St. and that he had operated a laundry near the corner of Common and Hampshire.

The article states that Buck W. Lee entered the service Feb. 1, 1944. It says that Lee was called to the service through a local board. At the time he was working at an airplane factory in Maryland.

A later article in The Evening Tribune, June 28, 1946, an advance on the Lee ceremonies, stated that Buck W. Lee was also known as David. B. Lee.

The 1946 ceremonies included a memorial parade, the naming of the corner at Hampshire and Common streets as Pfc. David B. Lee Square, and the presentation of an American flag to Lee’s father, Yen Fond Lee.

The Lawrence city directory from 1944, lists a restaurant Canton Low Co. for the address 32 Hampshire St.

And the Lawrence voter registration list from 1943 reflects residents at 32 Hampshire as including George Lee, 49, proprietor; Chin Yew, 59, cook; Fond Yew, 45, waiter; and John Chin, 56, cook.

Buck Lee would not have appeared on the list because he wouldn't have been old enough to vote, since 21 was the legal voting age.

Lee had been attached to the 712th tank battalion in the Battle of the Bulge.

An administrator of the Facebook website Patton's Vanguard — The United States Army Fourth Armored Division, said in a message that the after-action report for the 712th Battalion on Jan. 10, 1945, described very heavy artillery fire and very slow going due to the terrain for one of the battalion's companies.

Those who attend Saturday's rededication will have a chance to honor a member of that battalion at David B. Lee Square.

If you go ...

What: Re-dedication of David B. Lee Square.

When: Saturday at 10 a.m.

Where: Corner of Common and Hampshire streets in Lawrence.

Who: public invited, refreshments to be served after the ceremonies

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