By Jennifer Smith, GLOBE CORRESPONDENT on JANUARY 11, 2015
LAWRENCE — Seventy years to the day after Lawrence soldier David “Buck” Lee was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, members of the military and residents from Lee’s hometown gathered Saturday to rededicate a square in his honor.
Lee, a private first class with the Army, was the first Chinese-American soldier from Lawrence killed in World War II, according to Lawrence officials.
The 22-year-old was assigned to a tank battalion in Luxembourg, where he served under General George S. Patton and was killed in the line of duty on Jan. 10, 1945, said Jaime Melendez, director of Lawrence Veterans Services.
Mayor Daniel Rivera of Lawrence called the rededication a “homecoming” for Lee and others killed in battle.
“We seldom get the opportunity to honor the sacrifice of a fallen soldier,” Rivera said
A few dozen people stood in the freezing cold at David B. Lee Square Saturday morning, in front of the US Post Office, at the intersection of Common and Hampshire streets. Veterans and members of the Boston Chinatown American Legion Post 328 joined state representatives, city councilors, and local police and fire officials at the ceremony.
The square was dedicated 69 years ago and memorialized by a street marker and bronze plaque. The plaque went missing as several such markers were being replaced a few years ago, Rivera said.
In 2013, James M. Jacobs, director of St. Mary Cemetery, found the lost plaque in the woods at the cemetery. He recognized the name from the square but did not know about Lee’s Chinese-American background.
“People walking by shouldn’t just know the name, but the meaning of the name,” Jacobs said.
Lee was born in Canton, China, on March 13, 1922, according to the rededication referendum. In Lawrence, members of the Lee family were “lifetime residents” who owned and operated local businesses, including a coin laundry near the square.
No next of kin have been found, though Eddie Lee, president of the Lee Association, said they came very close before a possible relative passed away.
Lee served in the 712th Tank Battalion . The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest of American battles during the war, according to the Army’s military history.
For his distinguished duty, Lee was awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster for valor and buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, officials said.
By the end of the war, more than 13,000 soldiers of Chinese descent were serving in the Army.
Amy Au, vice commander of Post 328, said the contributions of Chinese-Americans in combat are not often recognized, and she hopes that reminders like the square can help create “a space for conversation.”
“For us, it’s more personal,” said Commander Matthew Seto. The Boston Chinatown Post, established in the years after Lee’s death, comprises servicemen of predominantly Chinese-American backgrounds. Lee, if he had enlisted today, would have been a member of the Post, Seto said.
The new monument unveiled at the ceremony — the original bronze plaque embedded in an inscribed granite block — is “a constant physical reminder for everyone who walks or drives by,” Au said.
Jennifer Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.