News Stories

Army celebrates contributions of Asian Pacific Americans

Published May 6, 2015

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated each May to recognize the contributions Asian and Pacific Americans.  This year's theme is "Many Cultures, One Voice: Promote Equality and Inclusion," which honors Asian and Pacific American Soldiers, civilians and Family members who have helped shape the history and make America's Army a model institution for diversity and inclusion.

The Army is the strength of the nation and historically a leader in creating opportunities for all. The Army firmly values the principles of diversity and inclusion and continues to lead American society in maximizing the potential of future leaders from all backgrounds. Diversity makes the Army better and more equipped to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century.

Congress passed a joint congressional resolution in 1978, establishing the first week of May as Asian American Heritage Week. May holds two important anniversaries: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad by predominantly Chinese laborers on May 10, 1869. In 1990, Congress voted to expand the commemoration from a week to a month-long observance. Beginning in 1992, the month of May was permanently designated as "Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month."

The term "Asia-Pacific Islands" includes the continent of Asia; the Pacific island groups of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia; the island groups of the Western and Central Pacific, such as the Philippines and the Marianas; and Hawaii, the 50th state of the United States. About 5 percent of the population of the United States is of Asian or Pacific Islander descent.
 Well-known Americans of Asian and Pacific Island ancestry include Olympic skaters Kristi Yamaguchi and Michele Kwan; actors James Hong, George Takai, Pat Morita and Dwayne Johnson; surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamiku; and television personalities Connie Chung and Julie Chen.

 Part of the Asian-Pacific American heritage is the U.S. Army's 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), whose members were Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and from detention camps, established by the U.S. government in February 1942 to house 120,000 Japanese-Americans who had been living in Pacific Coast states when the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. They, like the Tuskegee Airmen, fought prejudice at home, as well as tyranny overseas, during World War II.
By May 1945, the 442nd RCT and the 100th Infantry Battalion, fighting in Italy and southern France, had become the most highly decorated U.S. military units of their size.    They had accumulated more than 18,000 individual decorations for bravery, including 18 Medals of Honor; 52 Distinguished Service Crosses; and 9,500 Purple Hearts, with many soldiers earning multiple awards. In addition, the two units collectively received seven Presidential Unit Citations.
 The most well-known member of the 442nd RCT was Daniel K. Inouye, the first U.S. congressman of Japanese ancestry and the second longest-serving senator behind Senator Robert Byrd. During World War II, he received a battlefield commission and promotion to second lieutenant, the Distinguished Service Cross--upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2000--and other decorations. He is among 30 Asian-Americans who have received America's highest military award. He served as U.S. senator from Hawaii from to 1963 until his death on Dec. 17, 2012.
 Perhaps the most well-known Air Force member of Asian-Pacific Islander ancestry is Ellison Onizuka. Born in 1946 in Hawaii, he entered the Air Force in January 1970 and flew a variety of aircraft, eventually logging more than 1,700 flying hours. In January 1978, he became an astronaut candidate for NASA.
 Onizuka flew his first space shuttle mission aboard the Discovery in January 1985. He was a mission specialist aboard the orbiter Challenger when it exploded a little over one minute after launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on Jan. 28, 1986. Congress posthumously promoted him to colonel, and the Air Force renamed Sunnyvale Air Force Station, Sunnyvale, California, after Onizuka on Jan. 26, 1994. The Air Force officially closed the installation in September 2011. (U.S. Army News)