Feature   Observances

Second-Generation Korean American Reflects on Asian American, Pacific Islander Heritage Month

April 29, 2021 | BY Russell Toof, Regional Health Command Europe

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a national observance that honors the perseverance and legacy of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and celebrates their contributions to the nation.

For Army Col. Abraham Suhr, a second-generation Korean American, a simple block of American cheese brings back memories of a connection between his family and the U.S. Army.

During the Korean War, Suhr's father and father-in-law were only 10 years old. His grandfather was captured and never heard from again. Suhr says that it was thanks to his grandmother and the help of American service members that his father and his father's six brothers and sisters survived.

A soldier smiles for a photo while sitting by medical equipment in an office.
Army Col. Abraham Suhr
Army Col. Abraham Suhr, an ophthalmologist and the deputy commander for Surgical Services at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, is a second-generation Korean American. May is recognized as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The observance stands as a reminder of the strength the Army has gained and will gain, through a high-quality diverse all-volunteer force.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 210407-A-GJ885-001

"My father has a deep appreciation for the sacrifice it took for each American soldier to leave their families to come to Korea to defend people they didn't even know," Suhr said.

Suhr's father-in-law always keeps some American cheese in the refrigerator. Suhr said he asked him about it one day.

"He remembers an American military member giving him something. [He remembers] opening up the mystery, [and] it was a block of American cheese. He still remembers the creaminess. I am reminded of the long-lasting power of a simple act of service," Suhr said.

Both Suhr's father and father-in-law immigrated to the United States when they were young adults.

"They came to study, [to] make a life for themselves, [to] build a future and a family," Suhr added. 

Suhr grew up in San Luis Obispo, California. He eventually received an acceptance letter for medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; but in order to attend, he needed to join the military. So he  commissioned with the Army in 1997.

"Joining the Army or even the military was not on my radar during all my planning and preparation for medical school," he said. "However, when I interviewed at the Uniformed Services University, I fell in love with the community and all the opportunities within the military and military medicine. Current medical students were enthusiastic about attending USU and would not stop talking about all the unique opportunities and tremendous support given to medical students." 

Suhr said that at the time, he wasn't entirely sure what kind of doctor he wanted to be, but he eventually chose ophthalmology.

"Eyesight is extremely valuable to people," Suhr said. "We make a quick and noticeable improvement in someone's life with the right diagnosis and management. It's rewarding professionally and personally."

Suhr currently serves as the deputy commander for Surgical Services at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The position allows him to support LRMC's mission which helps ensure the readiness of joint domain warfighters by providing care through LRMC's surgical clinics and operating rooms.

"Joining the military has provided me an opportunity to be exposed to many people with diverse backgrounds and experiences," Suhr said. "It has given me the opportunity to travel and see various parts of the United States and the world. While in the military, I accomplished my professional goals and have taken care of the most appreciative patients in the world. I value all my opportunities and experiences of being part of the military."

"I have gained multicultural experiences through various military assignments and being a physician to a large number of people from different ethnicities," Suhr said. "I've learned lessons which boil down to the importance of having respect for others, regardless of the ethnicities or other perceived differences."

Suhr often reflects on his father and father-in-law's experience with the military and how it has shaped his Army career.

"What we do, or do not do, can have a tremendous and long-lasting impact on individuals and even generations," Suhr said. "Think about the [service member] giving the block of cheese. We may be oblivious to the significance of what we did and unaware of the extent of the impact. However, maybe it is good enough to know of the potential, so that it motivates us to always serve well." 

With more than two decades of service, Suhr can now reflect on his time in the Army and offer advice to young soldiers just starting their careers.

"Seek to build relationships with all sorts of people, especially with those you would not normally befriend," Suhr said. "Remain humble, and ask yourself what you can learn from someone else, regardless of the person's rank or other traits. The military definitely gives people opportunity; it is up to you to take them."

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month stands as a reminder of the strength the Army has gained and will gain, through a high-quality diverse all-volunteer force.