Second Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau (1918-1944) was a Chinese-American bomber pilot who died serving his country in World War II. Born in Concord, Massachusetts, Kimlau moved to New York City with his parents when he was fourteen. After graduating from Dewitt Clinton High School in 1937, Kimlau first traveled to China, where he witnessed firsthand Japanese military aggression. The next year, he returned to the United States and entered the Pennsylvania Military College (now the United States Army War College). Kimlau graduated with honors, earning a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Field Artillery.
Interested in airborne defense, Kimlau transferred from Field Artillery to the United States Army Air Force, and, following flight school, he was assigned to the “Flying Circus,” the 380th Bombardment Group of the Fifth Air Force in Australia. Beginning on February 27, 1944, along with four other pilots, Kimlau embarked on a mission to bomb Japanese airbases around New Guinea. On March 5, 1944, Kimlau and his fellow pilots were ordered to attack the Japanese rear line at Los Negros, an island adjacent to New Guinea. During the attack, the Japanese defenders shot down the attacking U. S. bombers, killing Kimlau and the other pilots. For their heroism and devotion to duty on this occasion and several others, the members of 380th Bombardment Group earned two Presidential Unit Citations.
The Lt. Kimlau Memorial monument was a gift of the Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291, founded by Chinese-American World War II veterans in 1945. The post is the largest in New York City, promoting numerous patriotic programs and community service initiatives within Chinatown, such as petitioning the Department of Transportation for more traffic lights in Chinatown, establishing and contributing to a capital fund for the construction of a recreation center at the Chinese Community Center, publishing the American Legion’s first bilingual newsletter, offering a weekly Tai-chi class, as well as teaching new immigrants basic English.
Located at the intersection of Oliver Street, East Broadway, the Bowery, and Park Row, Kimlau Square stands at the center of Chatham Square. In 1961, a local law named this island within Chatham Square in recognition of the contributions of Lt. Kimlau and the veterans post. That year, the post erected this memorial, designed by architect Poy G. Lee (1900-1968). Standing at the head of Oliver Street, it is reminiscent of a triumphal arch. The memorial stands eighteen feet nine inches in height and is sixteen feet wide. Inscribed on the memorial is a dedication in both English and Chinese: “In Memory of the Americans of Chinese Ancestry who lost their Lives in Defense of Freedom and Democracy.” In June 2000, the post celebrated its 55th anniversary, which included a parade and a rededication of the Kimlau Memorial.