In the first half of the 19th century, many people from Asia, particularly Chinese, immigrated to the United States where opportunities for employment were abundant. This was clearly a condition consistent with a nation that was growing not only geographically but economically as well. By the start of the Civil War, thousands of Asians were living in the United States. Many served with distinction in the U.S. Army.
Overseas Contingency Operations Profiles
Brig. Gen. Viet Xuan Luong
2014: The first Vietnamese-born general flag officer in the U.S. military
Brig. Gen. Viet Xuan Luong achieved the rank of brigadier general, Aug. 8, 2014, at Fort Hood, Texas. Luong emigrated from Vietnam with his family to the United States in 1975 as a political refugee. Luong came to the United States as part of Operation Frequent Wind, a mission to help rescue Vietnamese citizens from the country during the final days of the Vietnam War. Luong's nearly 27-year military career stemmed from his experience on the deck of the USS Hancock when he was a little boy leaving Vietnam.
Almost 40 years after his rescue, family and friends watched as Luong became the first Vietnamese-born general/flag officer in the U.S. military during a promotion ceremony on Cooper Field at Fort Hood, Texas, Aug. 8, 2014.
Brig. Gen. Miyako N. Schanely
2013: The first female Japanese-American, reserve engineer promoted to general officer
Brig. Gen. Miyako N. Schanely is also the second Japanese-American woman in the armed forces to reach flag rank at a ceremony in Vicksburg, Miss., Dec. 16, 2013.
In an interview with Watertown Daily Times, the brigadier general expressed hopes her career can serve as an example for younger Soldiers, noting the engineer field has been populated mostly by men as the military moves to expand opportunities for women.
Schanely credits her military career as a reflection of her military heritage, a proud family tradition, going back to World War II. Her mother, whose parents emigrated from Japan before her birth in Hawaii, and her father, both served in the Air Force. Her stepfather, an Army warrant officer, performed counterintelligence work in the Pacific as the rest of his family was forced into an internment camp, the Times reported.
Brig. Gen. John M. Cho
2013: The first active component brigadier general of Korean descent
Brig. Gen. John M. Cho achieved the rank of brigadier general, June 21, 2013, at Fort Meyer, Va.
Cho is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., and the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland. He completed residencies in general surgery at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Aurora, Colorado, and Cardiothoracic Surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. Cho also completed subspecialty fellowship training in Pediatric and complex Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. He is a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Army War College where he received a master's in Strategic Studies.
Cho is board certified as a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He holds active membership in the Society of Thoracic Surgery, and is a certified physician executive of the American College of Physician Executives. Cho's 30 publications, grants, and abstracts include two of the world's largest series in cardiac surgery and from 2006 to 2010, he was the consultant to the Army Surgeon General in Cardiothoracic Surgery.
Brig. Gen. Stephen K. Curda
2012: The first Korean-American to reach the rank of brigadier general in the Army Reserve
Brig. Gen. Stephen K. Curda was promoted to a brigadier general, Aug. 5, 2012, at Mountain View, Calif. The Pentagon announced, July 2, 2015, that Curda was selected to lead all Army Reserve Soldiers in the Pacific.
Curda holds a doctorate in educational psychology and instructional technology, has held faculty and administrative positions at Florida State University, University of Toledo and University of West Florida. Currently, he is the Director of Assessment and Innovative Technology for National Louis University and serves on the faculty of the National College of Education.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth
2006: The first Asian-American woman Soldier elected to Congress in Illinois
Rep. Tammy Duckworth is also one of the first two female combat veterans, the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, and the first member of Congress born in Thailand.
In 2004, then-Maj. Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. She was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom until her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, Nov. 12, 2004. Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in the explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries. She was the first female double amputee from the war. Duckworth spent the next year recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As one of the highest-ranking patients, she quickly became an advocate for her fellow Soldiers and testified before Congress about caring for our Veterans and wounded warriors.
Following her recovery, Duckworth ran for Congress in 2006 and after a narrow loss, she became director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. In Illinois, she worked to create a tax credit for employers who hired Veterans, established a first-in-the-nation, 24/7 crisis hotline for Veterans, and developed innovative programs to improve Veterans' access to housing and health care.
In 2009, President Obama appointed Duckworth to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs. There, Duckworth led an initiative to end homelessness among Veterans. She created the Office of Online Communications to improve the VA's accessibility, especially among young Veterans, and also worked to address the unique challenges that American Indians and female Veterans face.
Duckworth ran for Congress in 2012 to advocate for the practical solutions and cooperation needed to rebuild our economy and ensure that every American has a chance to achieve the American Dream.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
2010: The first female American Samoan and Hindu to ever serve as a member of the U.S. Congress
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is also one of the first two female combat veterans. Gabbard was the first female Distinguished Honor Graduate at Fort McClellan's Officer Candidate School, and was the first woman to ever receive an award of appreciation from the Kuwaiti military on her second overseas tour.
Gabbard was born in Leloaloa, American Samoa, in 1981. The fourth of five children, at the age of two, Gabbard and her family settled in Hawaii. As a teenager, she co-founded the Healthy Hawai'i Coalition, a non-profit, educational organization, made up of concerned citizens from across the state, whose two-fold purpose is to protect the environment and to improve individual and community health. An advocate for environmental policy, Gabbard ran for the Hawaii State Legislature in 2002 and became the youngest person ever elected. A year later, Gabbard joined the Hawaii National Guard to serve Hawaii's citizens and our country.
In 2004, Gabbard voluntarily deployed to Iraq with her fellow Soldiers of the 29th Brigade, eventually serving two tours of combat duty in the Middle East. Gabbard continues to serve the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team. In between her two tours, Gabbard worked in the U.S. Senate as a legislative aide to Sen. Daniel Akaka, where she advised the senator on energy independence, homeland security, the environment, and veterans' affairs.
In 2010, Gabbard ran for the Honolulu City Council and served as Chair of the Safety, Economic Development, and Government Affairs committee and Vice Chair of the Budget committee. Representing Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District.
Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Gen. Eric K. Shinseki
1999: The first Asian-American four-star general and 34th Chief of Staff of the Army
Gen. Erik K. Shinseki is also the first Asian-American to hold the post of Veterans Affairs secretary.
Shinseki credited his mother and the brave Asian-Americans who served in World War II for paving the way for his success during a speech at the installation's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Observance.
Shinseki assumed duties as the 28th Vice Chief of Staff, United States Army, Nov. 24, 1998. Shinseki assumed duties as the 34th Chief of Staff, United States Army, June 22, 1999. He retired from the United States Army in June 2003.
Judge Coral W. Pietsch
Brig. Gen. Coral W. Pietsch
1974: The first female Asian-American general officer in the U.S. Army
Brig. Gen. Coral W. Pietsch became the first woman to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps in 2001. In her military career, Judge Pietsch participated in numerous exercises and deployments throughout the Asia Pacific Region.
Pietsch was nominated by President Barack Obama and subsequently appointed a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in June 2012.
As part of the 2007 "surge" in Iraq, Pietsch volunteered as a Department of Defense civilian to deploy to Iraq for a year where she was seconded to the U.S. Department of State to serve as the deputy rule of law coordinator for the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team. During her deployment to Iraq, Pietsch assisted with numerous civil society projects involving a variety of Rule of Law partners, including the Iraqi Jurist Union, Iraqi Bar Association, law schools, and international rights, women's rights and human rights organizations. She evaluated and sought funding for numerous projects aimed at building capacity within the Iraqi legal community to include the establishment, in close collaboration with the Iraqi Bar Association, of a Legal Aid Clinic at one of the Iraq's largest detention facilities. During her time in Iraq, she also established meaningful relationships with numerous Government of Iraq ministries, nongovernmental organizations, and Coalition partners to help reinvigorate the rule of law in Iraq.
Major General John Liu Fugh
Maj. Gen. John Liu Fugh
1984: The first Chinese-American general officer in the U.S. Army
Maj. Gen. John Liu Fugh was a Beijing native who left China with his family after the Communist takeover in 1949.
In 1984, Fugh was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, and became the assistant judge advocate general for civil law. In this position, he created the Army's first environmental law division and the procurement fraud division.
Upon his retirement in June 1993, Fugh became a partner in the law firm of McGuire, Woods, Battle and Boothe, Washington, D.C. From 1995 to 2000, he served as president for several U.S. companies in Beijing, including McDonnell Douglas that later merged with Boeing Company. As chief executive for these companies, he was responsible for strategic direction of business development and projects in China. His stature as a retired U.S. general officer, coupled with his ethnic background and fluency in Mandarin, facilitated in developing relationships with key Chinese government and industry decision-makers. Throughout his tour in Beijing, he served on the Board of the American Chamber of Commerce.
Fugh is currently Chairman of the Committee of 100, a national, non-partisan group of prominent Chinese Americans that brings bicultural perspectives to U.S. relations with China and addresses the concerns of Americans of Chinese/Asian descent. In addition, he serves on the Executive Committee and a director of the Atlantic Council of the United States, a public policy forum in Washington, D.C. He also serves on the Advisory Council of Asia Society, Washington Center, and a director of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.
Fugh graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and the George Washington University Law School. He attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the U.S. Army War College, and the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College. He is a member of the Bar of the District of Columbia.
Major General James Mukoyama
Maj. Gen. James Mukoyama
1986: The first Asian-American to command an Army Division
Maj. Gen. James Mukoyama completed his master's in Teaching of Social Studies in just one year, while attending Officer Candidate School, and earning his Jump wings. He was sent to Korea and, following repeated requests, to Vietnam, where he commanded an infantry company before serving as an advisor to Army of the Republic of Vietnam units in the northern part of South Vietnam.
Shortly after his tour in Vietnam, Mukoyama left active duty and joined the reserves, serving with training divisions in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. In 1986, Mukoyama was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the youngest general in the Army at that time. In just three more years, he was promoted to major general, where he commanded the 70th Training Division.
After retiring from 32 years of military service in 1995, Mukoyama continued his deep involvement in the military through Veterans' advocacy programs, helping create the Military Outreach of Greater Chicago, serving as vice chair of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans, and chairing a committee with the National Veterans' Network to select the design for the Congressional Gold Medal award authorized by the Congressional Gold Medal for Japanese American Veterans.
Lieutenant General Allen K. Ono
Lt. Gen. Allen K. Ono
1986: The Army's first Japanese-American and Asian-American lieutenant general
Lt. Gen. Allen K. Ono was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He served in the Army for 35 years. He attended public schools in Hawaii and was commissioned to an infantry officer through the University of Hawaii's ROTC. His Army career included assignments at numerous mainland posts, Korea, Vietnam, Europe, and Panama, including Commander of the Army Recruiting Command. His final Army position was as the deputy chief of staff for personnel, 1986-1990, responsible for human resources policy for the entire Army.
Upon retirement from the Army, he returned to Hawaii as executive vice president and a member of the Board of Directors at American Savings Bank.
World War II Profiles
Senator Daniel K. Inouye
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye
2000: The first Japanese-American and only second recipient to receive both the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Honor
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye is also the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress.
Inouye was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Sept. 7, 1924. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Hawaii, and his law degree from George Washington University.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the fateful day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 17-year-old Dan Inouye was one of the first Americans to handle civilian casualties in the Pacific war. He had taken medical aid training and was pressed into service as head of a first-aid litter team. He saw a "lot of blood" and did not go home for a week.
During World War II, Inouye served in the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Composed of Soldiers of Japanese ancestry, the 442nd became one of the most decorated military units in U.S. history. For his combat heroism, which cost him his right arm, Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart with Cluster. He practiced law in Hawaii before entering territorial politics in 1954.
When Hawaii became the 50th state, Inouye became one of its first representatives in the U.S. Congress, then won election to the U.S. Senate in 1962. Sen. Inouye gained national distinction in the 1970s as a member of the Senate Watergate Committee and, in 1987, as chairman of the Senate Iran-Contra Committee. He was a long-time member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chaired from 2009 to 2012, and also served as the Senate's president pro tempore from 2010 until his death in 2012. In 2013, Inouye was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, becoming the first senator to receive both the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Honor.
Colonel Young-Oak Kim
Col. Young-Oak Kim
1951: The first Asian-American to lead a combat battalion in a war
Col. Young-Oak Kim is also the only Korean-American to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at the Battle of Anzio during World War II. Kim, having reenlisted and promoted to major, became the first ethnic minority to command a regular combat battalion, the first of the 31st Infantry.
When then-2nd Lt. Young Oak Kim reported for duty at Camp Shelby, Miss., in February 1943, the commander of the 100th Battalion (Separate), Lt. Col. Farrant Turner, offered him an immediate transfer because "Koreans and Japanese don't always get along."
Kim refused on the spot,"You're wrong. They're Americans, I'm American, and we're going to fight for America." The young Korean-American lieutenant was being both patriotic and pragmatic. Born in 1919 in downtown Los Angeles; amid Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, and Jewish immigrants, Kim knew his opportunities for advancement would be limited in a "white man's army." "If I wasn't with the 100th," Kim recalled many years later, "I would be a PR [Public Relations] officer or have some insignificant duty someplace else, because nobody was going to let me, as an Asian, command regular troops."
Judge Herbert Choy
Judge Herbert Choy
1971: The first Asian-American federal judge
Judge Herbert Choy was previously a first lieutenant in the Army and became the first Asian-American federal judge in 1971 and the first person of Korean ancestry to be admitted to the bar in the United States.
Fresh out of Harvard, Choy's life forever changed on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor. The next day, he enlisted in the Army.
As a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps, he entered the Army as a lieutenant and left as a captain, after serving in both Japan and Korea, part of the time as a member of the Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps.
Choy was a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves JAG Corps. He emerged from the Army tri-lingual, mastering Korean, Japanese and English.
Captain Fred Ohr
Captain Fred Ohr
1941: Capt. Fred Ohr is the first and only American fighter ace of Korean descent
Dr. Fred Ohr was born in Portland, Ore., in 1919, and became an aviation cadet in 1941. He was later assigned to the 2nd Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Group in North Africa and Sicily as a fighter pilot flying Spitfires. He scored his first aerial combat victory flying a Spitfire in 1943. The rest of his victories came after the group transitioned to P-51s in 1944. Ohr ended his tour of duty as the squadron's commanding officer.
Then-Maj. Fred F. Ohr served with: 2nd Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Group; 116th Cavalry Regiment, Idaho National Guard; 183rd Field Artillery; 115th Cavalry; 12th Air Force; 15th Air Force; and 68th Material Service Squadron.
After the war, he returned to college in California. He studied at the University of California, Berkley, and Northwestern Dental School in Chicago. He established a career as a dental surgeon in Chicago.
Civil War Profiles
Private Joseph L. Pierce
Private Joseph L. Pierce
Pvt. Joseph L. Pierce was age 21 when he enlisted in the 14th Connecticut Infantry in August 1862. It's unclear how Pierce ended up in the United States. One story has it that his father sold him to Connecticut ship Captain Amos Peck. Another story was that his brother sold him . Still another was that Peck picked Pierce up while he was adrift in the South China Sea. Peck, a lifelong bachelor, turned the 10-year-old he called "Joe" over to his mother in Connecticut. In his youth, Joe went to school with the Peck's children and formally became Joseph Pierce in 1853. He picked up his last name from President Franklin Pierce. Pierce worked as a farmer in New Britain, Connecticut, at the time of his military enlistment. He listed his birthplace as Canton in Kwangtung Province, China.
Pierce's regiment participated in the Battle of Antietam, Md., Sept. 17, 1862. He suffered some sickness during his time around Washington and was in the hospital for a time. He was assigned to the Quartermaster Department for a bit and rejoined the 14th in time for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va. in May 1863. The 14th had a distinguished role in the Gettysburg campaign. It fought on the north part of Cemetery Ridge, July 2, and was one of the units that helped repel Pickett's Charge. The 14th was primarily responsible for turning back Brig. Gen. James Pettigrew's North Carolina division. The 14th's regimental history says that during Pickett's charge, Pierce appeared "pig-tail and all, the only Chinese in the Army of the Potomac," but as history reflects, he wasn't in fact the only Soldier of Chinese descent. Today, you can see the 14th Memorial to the north of the grove of trees marking the high-water mark of the Confederacy.
Edward Day Cohota
Edward Day Cohota
In 1845, Sargent S. Day, captain of the square-rigged merchant ship Cohota, left Shanghai, China, bound for Massachusetts. Two days from port, he discovered two little half-starved Chinese boys on board. The older boy died, but Day "adopted" the younger boy and named him Edward Day Cohota. Edward sailed the world with Captain and Mrs. Day until the captain retired to Gloucester, Mass., in 1857. He attended school and the other Day children treated him as a brother.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Cohota joined the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry. He fought in the Battle of Drury's Bluff near Richmond, Va., on May 16, 1864, and at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Va., June 3, 1864. He stayed with the Army of the Potomac through the end of the war. After the war, Cohota rejoined the Army and was stationed at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. He married and had six children. He served in the Army for 30 years. He believed that his military service qualified him for U.S. citizenship. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion act, a legal measure enacted to cease the immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States. Because Cohota hadn't submitted his second set of naturalization papers prior to the passing of this Act, he ultimately was unable to gain American citizenship. Cohota died at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium for Veterans in Hot Springs, S.D., in 1935.