Yick Dong Hong, whose real name was Chen WenRao (陈文饶), was born on November 13, 1913, in the rural city of Taishan, China. He attended public school in China where basic military training was provided before immigrating to the United States at around 20 years old to work. Like most immigrants, he may have left China for more opportunities. He lived at 258 W. 55th Street on the Upper West Side working as both a waiter and a cook. From there, he joined the Spanish Civil War on June 12, 1937 and served with the XV BDE (the Abraham Lincoln Brigade). It’s likely he took part in the war because he was a Communist, and believed in the Republic’s cause.
After joining the war, he realized that there weren’t many Chinese soldiers. He has seen only eight other Chinese soldiers, and none of them were in his squad. In a letter to another soldier, he says he wished he had someone to talk to in Chinese. For a lot of Chinese soldiers who volunteered to fight, they believed in the saying “四海一家” which directly translate to “four seas one family,” that something on the other side of the world was also something that he can be and is part of.
In September 1937, there was one account of him getting injured mentioned in the La Vanguardia, a Spanish daily newspaper. Yick was shot in the right foot and through his toe and went to a hospital in Benicassim. After removing his big toe, he said he was determined to go right back to the battlefield and join the front lines. He went missing in the battle of Gandesa, and was assumed dead on April 3, 1938 at the age of 24.
After his death, surviving soldiers say they don’t know Yick’s real name, or where he was from, but remembered that he spoke fluent English, suggesting that he may have been from New York City. An investigator later asked around in Chinatown, NYC before finding an elderly man who says he recognized Yick. Once the elderly man was shown a picture of the soldier, he was sure that the soldier was Chen Wenrao from Guangzhou, confirming the soldier’s real name and background.
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