Fallen Troops Honored at DoD Asian-Pacific American Heritage Ceremony
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., May. 14, 2003 "Salute to Liberty," the theme for this year's observance of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, is particularly apt for the Defense Department as the conflict in Iraq ends, David S.C. Chu told more than 800 attendees at DoD's celebration May 14.
Chu said the theme is also fitting as the U.S. begins to help the Iraqi people to build a stable, free and democratic society.
"The department is especially proud of the service given by Asian-Pacific Americans during Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
He then told the large gathering about the ultimate sacrifice made by three former service members of Asian-Pacific heritage: Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Menusa of the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division; Marine Corps Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade; and Army Staff Sgt. Nino D. Livaudais of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Chu said Menusa was born in the Philippines and moved with his family to San Jose, Calif., when he was 10 years old and graduated from high school there in 1989. He joined the Marines and served in the Persian Gulf in 1991. Menusa was a recruiter in the San Francisco Bay area before going to Iraq.
"While serving on active duty, he attempted to obtain his citizenship, but his military duties kept him from completing the process," Chu said. "Gunnery Sgt. Menusa was posthumously awarded American citizenship prior to his burial in Santa Maria, Calif., on April 11."
Menusa is survived by his wife, Stacy, a 3-year-old son, his mother and stepfather and two brothers, one of whom is a Marine drill instructor in San Diego, Chu noted.
Chanawongse, who was called Ahn by his family, was a native of Thailand who moved to Waterford, Conn., with his mother when he was about 8 years old. Graduating from high school in 1999, he became a citizen and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
"An amphibious vehicle operator, Cpl. Chanawongse was killed during an intense firefight with Iraqi forces while his unit was attempting to secure a bridge over the Euphrates River near the town of Nasiriyah," Chu noted.
He was buried at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery on April 30, and his grandfather, a veteran of the Thai Air Force attended. He's survived by his mother, stepfather and an older brother.
Livaudais was born in Olongapo, Philippines, and moved with his family to Syracuse, Utah, at an early age. Graduating from high school in 1997, he underwent basic infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., finished airborne school in June 1998 and was assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Chu noted that Livaudais served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom from October 2001 until January 2002, earning the rank of staff sergeant in four years.
"Staff Sgt. Livaudais was killed on April 10 in an apparent suicide attack when a car exploded at a checkpoint near the Haditha Dam, northwest of Baghdad," Chu noted. "He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor and the Purple Heart.'
Livaudais is survived by his wife, Jackie, his high school sweetheart; sons Carson and Destre; his mother; grandmother; four brothers; and three sisters. His wife is expecting the couple's third child. He was also buried at Arlington.
"The deaths of these individuals remind all of us of the personal cost in this war for freedom and democracy," Chu said. "Those who gave their lives deserve our utmost thanks and the perpetual memory of their deeds. Theirs was the ultimate price for the liberty and security we cherish."
Later on in his remarks, Chu received thunderous laughter and applause when he told the audience about Marine Cpl. Edward Chin of Bravo Company, 1st Tank Battalion. Noting that Chin is an American of Chinese heritage, Chu said the corporal and his unit were among the U.S. forces that entered Baghdad.
"Cpl. Chin's picture was taken and sent all over the world as he helped to place a large towing cable around a 40-foot statue of Saddam Hussein in order to assist the Iraqis as they pulled the statue to the ground," Chu told the audience.
"All the people whom I have mentioned today are examples of Asian-Pacific Americans who have demonstrated that whenever the chips are down, they answer our nation's call to duty," the undersecretary said. "They are representative of the scores of so many more Asian-Pacific Americans who, like all of our service personnel, seek not fame or fortune, but only to contribute to the defense of this great nation."
He emphasized that, by many accounts, the military is the most successfully integrated institution in America.
"Building a better future for all men and women, regardless of race, color or creed, is the best way to honor the sacrifices of the true Asian-Pacific American heroes whom we honor today," Chu said.
The DoD Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month annual luncheon and awards ceremony was held in conjunction with the Federal Asian-Pacific American Council's National leadership training conference, congressional seminar and job fair in Arlington.
Hosted by Chu, the celebration included a salute to fallen Asian and Pacific Islander American heroes and music by the Air Force Band's Strolling Strings. It also included the presentation of awards to outstanding service members from each service, including the Coast Guard, Army and Air Force National Guards, and the Reserve components, who demonstrated significant leadership in the Asian Pacific community.
Army Capt. Sylvia Bonnette James read a special "Salute to Fallen Asian American and Pacific Islander Heroes."
After the Armed Forces Color Guard and Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marched in to post the colors, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Bicoy of the Army Band sang the National Anthem. The invocation and benediction was given by Chaplain (Col.) Philip D. Kalyanaput of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command.