DoD's Personnel Chief Gives Asian-Pacific American History Lesson
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., June 3, 2005 The Defense Department's top personnel official gave a history lesson about Asian-Pacific Americans' contributions to the defense of the nation to about 800 attendees at the DoD Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month luncheon and military awards ceremony here June 2.
Army Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth of the Illinois Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, narrates the "Salute to Fallen Asian Pacific Islander Heroes." during the Defense Department's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month luncheon and military awards ceremony in Arlington, Va., June 2. An Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot, Duckworth suffered the loss of both legs when a rocket-propelled grenade penetrated her helicopter beneath her feet and exploded at her knees in Iraq. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the audience that as they gather to think about and celebrate the histories and cultures of Asian-Pacific Americans through dance, music and food, they should also keep in mind those who couldn't attend the annual event.
"Asian-Pacific Americans in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are engaged in a very real, valuable and dangerous service to combat terrorism, and especially to protect new, fragile democracies that are emerging in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "They're helping guarantee 'Liberty and Freedom for All' - the theme of this year's luncheon and military awards ceremony."
Chu pointed out that except for American Indians, the United States is a nation of immigrants, and those from Asia and the Pacific islands are among the newest. "Most early Asian immigrants, principally Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos, did not begin coming to this country in significant numbers until the mid-1850s," Chu said.
Nonetheless, said he added, those of Asian and Pacific ancestry participated in the country's earliest military campaigns, dating back to 1763 when Filipino sailors and crewmen deserted from Spanish ships and established settlements in Mexico and the soon-to-be Spanish colony of Louisiana. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the so-called "Manilamen" participated as part of the force assembled by French buccaneer Jean Baptiste Lafitte to help Gen. Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans from British invasion in 1815 -- the last battle of the War of 1812, according to Chu. And more than 50 Americans of Chinese ancestry fought -- on both sides -- during the Civil War, he added.
Asian and Pacific Americans went on to serve in the military during the Spanish-American War and World War I, but they didn't get much attention until World War II, Chu said. "As a group, Asian Americans - including those of Japanese ancestry - declared their loyalty to this country and demonstrated it by working in defense industries, supporting our troops, and serving in the military," Chu noted.
In 1940, persons of Asian heritage were only 1.9 percent of the U.S. population, or 254,918 out of 131.6 million people. Americans of Filipino ancestry were 0.35 percent of the U.S. population, which made them the third-largest segment of the Asian-American population in the country. But they were the largest Asian-American group in the U.S. armed forces, which was the result of Filipinos serving as part of the U.S. Army in the Philippines. There were two large units with mostly Filipino enlisted personnel -- the Philippine Scouts and the Philippine Division, Chu noted.
"Unfortunately, both of these units were destroyed and their members killed, captured, or dispersed when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in January 1940," Chu said. "Some Filipino and American survivors were able to form guerrilla groups in the mountains and engaged in small-scale fighting with Japanese forces until 1945, when the U.S. recaptured the Philippines."
Chu said persons of Chinese ancestry were the second-largest Asian-Pacific group in the United States. He said that as with Filipino-American military personnel, about 40 percent of the Chinese serving in the U.S. military were not native-born citizens. Many took advantage of the citizenship process in 1943 after repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943. About 75 percent of the Chinese Americans didn't serve in segregated units, as did Japanese and Filipino Americans.
Persons of Japanese ancestry were the largest of the Asian-American groups in the United States consisting of 126,947 persons, or slightly less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population. Americans of Japanese ancestry were initially denied the opportunity to serve in the military during World War II. Many already in the military were restricted in duty or removed from active service. Not until 1943 were Americans of Japanese ancestry permitted to enlist or be subjected to the draft, Chu noted.
The men fought valorously when they were finally allowed to serve as members of the all-Japanese 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Infantry Regiment, known collectively as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, he said. The unit fought in Italy, France, and Italy again from June 1944 to the end of the war in August 1945.
"During that time, the unit never exceeded 4,500 men in size, but its members received 18,000 individual decorations, making it the most highly decorated unit of the war," Chu noted. "The 100th Infantry Battalion is still part of our Army's force structure -- and is on duty in Iraq.
"Not many Americans are aware, though, that over 6,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were trained as interpreters, interrogators and translators by the Army's Military Intelligence Service," Chu continued. "Many of those people served behind the lines, but 3,700 MIS linguists served with combat units on the front lines in order to screen prisoners and provide immediate information from captured documents and maps."
World War II was also a watershed event for Asian-Pacific American women, he said. "For the first time, Asian-Pacific American women entered the military, albeit in very small numbers," Chu noted. "Two of these were Hazel (Ying) Lee and Maggie Gee, Chinese-American women, who joined the Women Air Service Pilots and ferried aircraft from factories to air bases in the United States and overseas. Hazel Yee was one of 38 WASPs to die in air crashes while delivering planes."
Another was Josefina V. Geurrero, who delivered food, clothing, medicine, and contraband messages to American prisoners of war in the Philippines, Chu said. "She was also a member of the resistance movement and was responsible for preparing a number of maps of Japanese military installations in the Manila area," he pointed out. "She was awarded the Philippine Medal of Freedom for her actions."
Chu said 11 Japanese-American and one Chinese-American member of the Women's Army Corps were skilled translators and members of the Military Intelligence Service who gave up their post-war military careers to serve as civilian translators and interpreters in Gen. Douglas MacArthur's occupation headquarters in Japan.
In the Korean War, two Asian Americans, Cpl. Hiroshi Miyamura, a Japanese American, and Pfc. Herbert Pililaau , a Native Hawaiian, were each awarded the Medal of Honor for their valorous acts. Also, Young Oak Kim, a Korean American who had served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, commanded the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, as a major. He stayed in the Army after the war and retired as a colonel in 1972, Chu said.
"Today, Asian-Pacific Americans comprise 4.5 percent of all personnel on active duty and 3.4 percent of all of those in the Guard and Reserves," Chu noted. "These numbers are very close to the representation of Asian-Pacific islanders in the military service age-eligible population."
Chu said the month's theme does fitting honor to Asian-Pacific Americans. "As we look at the difficulty of the problems before us, including hatred and terrorism, we would do well to bear in mind the American legacy of acceptance and tolerance," Chu told the gathering. "Building a future of 'Liberty and Freedom for All,' regardless of race, color, or creed, is an appropriate way to honor the sacrifices of the Asian-Pacific American heroes whom we recognize today."
Servicemembers from each service, including the Coast Guard, Army and Air National Guard and the Reserves, were presented the Federal Asian Pacific American Council's Military Meritorious Service Award during the awards ceremony.
Chu assisted Linda Tuazon-Miller, president of the Federal Asian-Pacific American Council, in presenting the awards to Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas A. Taft, Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Kathryn G. Balvage, Army National Guard Sgt. Benjamin I. Lomboy, Navy Petty Officer Joseph B. Abenojar, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jonathan E. Flick, Marine Corps Reserve Sgt. Jeffrey Chao, Air Force Master Sgt. Maria R. Kraft, Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Christian T. Dao and Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Ron Nakamoto.
The presiding official was Clarence A. Johnson, DoD's principal director for equal opportunity. The invocation was given by Air Force Chaplain (Col.) Richard K. Hum, executive director, Armed Forces Chaplains Board. Welcoming remarks were given by Tuazon-Miller and John M. Molino, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for equal opportunity.
Army Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth of the Illinois Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, narrated a salute to fallen Asian-Pacific islander heroes. An Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot, Duckworth suffered the loss of both legs when a rocket-propelled grenade penetrated her helicopter beneath her feet and exploded at her knees in Iraq.
The presentation of colors and national anthem were performed by the Armed Forces Color Guard and the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.