Wang Pi-Cheng, a Chinese general who represented his nation at ceremonies ending World War II, died Thursday in Westminster. He was 102.
Though Wang spent his last 25 years in quiet anonymity in Orange County, he served in many high-profile military roles.
He was Chinese military attache to the Soviet Union during the 1937-45 Sino-Japanese War and witnessed the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri in 1945. Wang and others who attended "were the absolute top ... among the Allied generals," said Mike Weidenbach, curator of the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
Wang retired as a lieutenant general from the army of the Republic of China in 1974.
Wang was born in 1900 in Jiangxi province. He graduated from Wuchang Normal University in 1924 and taught elementary school for three years before joining the military, family members said.
As one of the few college graduates in the military, Wang assumed a staff position, organizing battle information and planning strategy.
He was not often on the battlefield, but earned a medal for hand-to-hand combat. Wang encountered a Japanese sergeant in a field outside Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese War, his sons said, and killed him with a sword, suffering a bayonet wound in the struggle.
Wang continued his education as a Chinese government-sponsored scholar at military academies around the world, including the Japanese Army Academy and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. While a student in Munich, Germany, he met Adolf Hitler and chatted with Benito Mussolini in the Italian leader's country villa, family members said.
Based in Moscow from 1937 to 1940, Wang secured military support from the Soviet Union and France as part of his duties as attache.
After he returned to China, he served as the deputy chief of intelligence in Chongqing, formerly Chungking, collecting Japanese intelligence and devising strategies to cripple the Japanese military.
Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek trusted Wang's analysis so much that, in 1943, he chose not to move his capital west, even though the Japanese were perilously close to Chungking.
"He told the generalissimo that the Japanese supply lines were too long, they couldn't support them. That was his judgment and everybody was surprised," said Wang Tze Ching, 87, an unrelated colleague who headed the American intelligence section of Chiang's government at the time. "It was a big risk, but finally the Japanese did withdraw."
Wang continued to serve the government of the Republic of China after the Japanese surrender.
He helped to rebuild the nation as part of the Chinese Occupational Force and developed natural resources in Taiwan after the nationalist forces retreated to the island in 1949 ahead of the Communists.
Soong Chen-Hsu, 83, who met Wang Pi-Cheng at a military training center in Chungking in 1940, remembers Wang as a conscientious researcher and fair manager.
Though political alliances could make or break a military career in Chiang's government, Soong said, Wang was unique in his single-minded focus on work.
"He was not interested at all in money or fame," Soong said.
Wang's five sons, who all live in Southern California, are proud of their father's accomplishments, though they say he was absent for much of their childhood.
"He devoted his whole life to the Chinese people," said Wang's eldest son, Richard, 76.
"Before I was 10 years old, I never had a chance to dine with him at the same table."
But after the retired general moved to California in 1978 with his second wife, Lydia, to live with his sons, he reveled in family life.
Wang regaled his daughters-in-law with war stories and carried his grandchildren on long walks. He spent hours poring over Asian histories and discussing current events with visiting friends.
Wang exercised daily and remained fit well into his 90s. His health began to fail this year after his wife died in January.
He died Thursday of heart and kidney failure.
Family members will hold a private memorial on March 8.
They also plan to celebrate his life at the Pacific Palms Conference Resort in Industry on March 15.