Teddy Wong, a North Dakota-born son of Chinese immigrants, was serving with the U.S. Army in World War II when fellow American soldiers mistook him for a Japanese soldier.
“U.S. Army forces almost shot him,” said his son Johnny Wong. “He said the colonel came running up and said, ‘Don’t shoot him! Don’t shoot him! That’s Teddy Wong! He’s one of us!’ ”
Wong was born in Fargo and was drafted in late 1942, when he was a junior in high school. He was assigned to the 773rd Amphibious Tank and Tractor Battalion serving in the Pacific Theater.
Wong, 95, who moved to Roseville, died peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 25 of age-related health issues. His family owned and operated the restaurant House of Wong, a 61-year institution in Roseville, for several years.
“No matter what, he kept moving forward,” his son said. “He would just work hard and just overcome whatever came his way.”
Wong’s father was a managing partner in the Fargo Cafe, where a team of Chinese owners made apple pie, beef stew and lutefisk for the locals.
But in 1932, the family moved back to their village in Guangdong Province in China. Wong’s father died a year later of cancer.
Wong’s mother sent him back to Fargo alone in 1937 at age 13. He worked at an uncle’s restaurant, American Cafe, washing dishes and waiting tables, and lived in the basement.
When his uncle shuttered the cafe in 1940, a teenage Wong went to the Fargo Cafe and asked the partners to honor his father’s share in the restaurant and take in him and his brother, Lem Wong, who had returned to Fargo.
“We moved to the basement of the Fargo Cafe into a tiny room big enough for a double bed and a small desk,” Lem Wong said. “It was dark, damp and rather spooky at first, but we were grateful for having a place to live.”
A few years later, Wong was manning a machine gun in an amphibious vehicle that delivered U.S. Marines to islands such as Saipan and Okinawa, among others.
Wong was among the first wave to land on June 15, 1944, in the Battle of Saipan, which left about 3,000 U.S. soldiers dead and 10,000 wounded, Johnny Wong said.
The amphibious craft was supposed to deliver the Marines 1,200 yards inland on the first day, but the trek took until June 18 because of heavy fire, his son said.
“There was just tremendous amounts of enemy fire coming at him,” Johnny Wong said. “He just kept firing his machine gun as they went in.”
Wong served until 1945.
In the late 1950s, Wong and his wife, Laura, moved to Roseville, where they raised four children and opened House of Wong on Larpenteur Avenue. Wong offered an eclectic menu of American, Chinese and Italian food alongside his homemade pies and muffins.
“He busied himself perfecting apple pie,” said his daughter, Renee Proue. “That was his pride and joy.”
Wong owned and operated the restaurant before passing it down to Johnny and Renee, who sold it in 2007.
Wong loved spending time with his family, taking all four children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild on cruises to the Caribbean and Alaska.
He also donated money to rebuild a school in his family’s village in China.
“He wanted them to have a better life, too, a better school that was more modern,” Proue said. “He’ll be greatly missed, and he’ll leave a big hole in my life, I know.”
Wong is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchild and five siblings. Services have been held.