American Legion Post #384, known as Cathay Post, lost their Hero Commander Bok Pon on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Commander Pon learned that he was another Chinese American victim of Hepatitis B three years ago, and his physician gave him the dire warning that he had about 6 months to live.
Even Superman would be shaken if he had learned that he had overexposure to kryptonite, in this case Bok Pon was told his liver was badly damaged by the Hepatitis B virus and that the malady was fatal. The next day, after a less than great night’s sleep, Bok Pon woke up early and did his normal daily routine - consisting of a 100 pushups and jogging several miles. He was feeling good and he was determined to fight and not let any virus take him down.
Three years later, the indefatigable 82nd Air Borne paratrooper learned after his most recent MRI scan that his liver was almost gone and his time remaining was now very limited – just a few weeks left. Even with that alarming warning, he flew to hot and sweltering Washington, DC with a few missions left to complete.
With his network, he obtained an appointment to meet with Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. After explaining his work with Cathay Post, Shinseki a retired 4 star US Army general thanked Commander Pon for all his work on behalf of veterans and promised to visit Bok Pon and Cathay Post soon. The following week, after his speaking engagement at the local Marines Memorial Center, Shinseki fulfilled his promise and met with Pon and most of the veteran members of Cathay Post in the San Francisco Headquarters. The Secretary gave his best wishes to Bok Pon for a long life and promised to visit Cathay Post whenever he was in the Bay Area.
Cathay Post is one of the oldest American Legion Posts in the Country having been inducted into the American Legion in 1932. It is, in fact, the oldest Asian American veteran’s posts in America. At the end of the last Century, Cathay Post suffered the same malady facing 90% of American Legion posts nationwide – senioritis. With large numbers of WW II and Korean War veterans currently dying at a rate of roughly 1000 veterans a day, this Post was comatose as many of its members were no longer ambulatory and the veterans of the Vietnam era and later were not interested in the American Legion for many reasons. Many veterans, quite frankly, wanted to forget their miserable times fighting the VC and mosquitoes, so the ranks of the young in American Legion posts is very limited.
In 2002 Bok Pon personally decided to revive Cathay Post and with enormous determination and tireless effort, recruited new members, raised cash to pay for the expenses of managing an organization, and today, this Cathay Post is a vibrant organization and a model for emulation throughout the American Legion.
Commander Pon made Cathay Post a place to hang out, or plan for community events, or support wounded and homebound veterans, and even planned for a Museum dedicated to the Chinese American veterans who have fought for America since the Civil War. He also dreamed of providing affordable housing for returning veterans as well as senior veterans.
Some of his other dreams have already come true, the Post now has a trust fund to pay full tuition to returning veterans attending San Francisco City College and he also has accumulated a healthy fund to fight the Hepatitis B virus.
Bok Pon also has another special dream, the development of an Auxiliary for Cathay Post for the many citizens who supported the organization but who were not qualified as veterans. Today, the Cathay Post Auxiliary numbers almost a hundred members and they contribute the energy to make every Cathay Post very successful.
Commander Pon was a political conservative, but his liberal concern for the underprivileged is well documented. He served on the Board of Chinese for Affirmative Action and also the Chinese Newcomer’s Association. He helped obtained federal funds for the homeless in San Francisco.
At the same time he and Cathay Post fought for the JROTC program directed by Cathay Post leader Nelson Lum and that battle was won after years of confrontation with a few members of the Board of Education. He did not forget the San Francisco police or fire fighters either and raised funds to give out savings bonds to the top police and fire fighters selected by their own organizational leaders.
Cathay Post already feels the great loss of its preeminent leader; the rest of our community has also lost a great citizen who fought for their welfare and well being.
God Bless Commander Bok Pon. We and our community thank you for all you have done for us and we will always remember you.
-Ronald Lee, Commander, Cathay Post and all the members of Cathay Post and the Cathay Post Auxiliary
Article on AsianWeek.com