Pang Says DoD Will Continue Fight Against Discrimination
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Aug. 13, 1997 Today's military is the most diverse in history and the most integrated major institution in American life, but it's not without problems, Fred Pang told Hispanic veterans and guests here at the American GI Forum National Education and Training Conference Aug. 8.
"Dealing with discrimination issues sometimes causes the military some bad press reports," said Pang, DoD's assistant secretary of defense for force management policy. "But that just goes with the territory. It will not stop us from dealing with these issues head on and insisting that every service member is afforded the opportunity and respect earned by volunteering to wear the nation's uniform."
The GI Forum is the nation's largest mostly Hispanic veterans organization. It was formed 49 years ago by World War II veteran Hector P. Garcia in Corpus Christi, Texas, to fight discrimination against Mexican-American war veterans.
Pang called the group important and valuable not only to Hispanic service members and veterans, but to all service members and veterans. "The legacy of pride, patriotism and opportunity for the Hispanic community by the late Dr. Hector Perez Garcia will endure through the forum's work," Pang said.
"In pursuit of that goal, President Clinton has begun what he calls a 'national conversation about race,'" Pang told the 1,000+ audience. "It will be a year-long effort to present the nation his (Clinton's) vision of a stronger, more just and more united American community -- one offering opportunity and fairness for all Americans."
Combining constructive dialogue, study and action, the president's initiative will examine the current state of race relations and the nation's common future, and will examine laws and policies that can help ensure the country remains 'one America,' Pang said.
If the initiative is successful, Pang said, it will help educate Americans about the facts surrounding racial issues, promote dialogue in every community across the country, and recruit and encourage leadership at all levels to help breach racial divides. It will also find, develop and recommend ways to implement concrete solutions to the nation's problems -- solutions that will involve government, business, communities and individual citizens, he said.
"In the Department of Defense, our goal is to continue to lead America in providing true equal opportunity," Pang said. "We are committed to programs which have brought unparalleled opportunity to all members of our armed forces. Equal opportunity and affirmative action are necessary to promote the diversity that's imperative to an effective military force."
Pang, a Hawaii-born Asian American, noted that Japanese Americans suffered discrimination and internment during World War II, yet many of them volunteered to fight for their country. They became one of the most decorated units in American military history. He said the plight of a group of Hispanic Americans reminds him of the Japanese Americans' dilemma during the war.
"Both groups rose above intolerance and remained faithful to the values of duty, honor and country," Pang said. "This story features eight Hispanic Americans who were born of Mexican immigrant parents in the yard where the Rock Island railroad used to repair its locomotives in Silvis, Ill."
As the story goes, townspeople vehemently complained about the Mexican Americans allegedly living tax free in old box cars and building a church by putting two box cars together. Consequently, the Hispanics were forced to move to Second Street, a long dirt road, on the west end of town, out of sight and mind of the complainers, Pang said.
"The young Hispanic men from Second Street, brought up by their parents to fight for a country which offered a better life, went to war in numbers unmatched by any other street in America," he noted. The 22 families on Second Street sent 87 young men to war. Fifty-seven went to World War II and Korea. Two families sent 13 -- seven from one and six from the other.
"No other street in America had families who paid so dearly for their country," Pang said. "Yet, because they were Hispanic, the city fathers of Silvis prohibited those returning from war from joining the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. They also refused to pave rocky and dusty Second Street.
"Finally, after a sometimes bitter struggle, the Hispanic and white residents of Silvis embraced and joined hands," he said. "On 'Billy Goat Hill,' where the kids of Second Street used to play, they built a park with a historical monument to the eight young heroes who had died. Second Street, which sent 87 young, brave Hispanic men to war and lost eight, was proudly named 'Hero Street USA.'
"All Americans owe a special debt of gratitude to Hispanic Americans, who when the chips are down, defend America with their very lives," Pang said.