NATICK, Mass. -- To commemorate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center hosted a special event in Hunter Auditorium on May 14.

The event, which was open to all Natick Soldier Systems Center employees, included an esteemed guest speaker, a short-film about a former NSRDEC employee who made the journey from refugee to highly regarded Army scientist, a presentation of traditional clothing from a few Asian cultures and a sampling of Asian foods.

People of Asian American Pacific Islander heritage are a culturally and linguistically diverse group who have made invaluable contributions to Natick and to the nation as a whole.

The hour-long program provided just a small glimpse into the achievements, contributions and rich cultures of this diverse heritage.

Craig Rettie, deputy director of NSRDEC, introduced the event's esteemed guest speaker, Col. Raymond L. Phua, commander of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Rettie praised Phua's "amazing accomplishments" and "commitment to service."

Phua told the audience he was born in Canada and moved with his family to the United States as an infant. At age nine, his family moved to Singapore, when they lived for four years. It was there that Phua said he learned his first important lessons about life.

Phua told a story about a man who would ride his bicycle through Phua's neighborhood. On the back of his bike, the man had a charcoal grill, and he would make and sell delicious satay on even the hottest or rainiest of days.

"I think this was the first time I was exposed to what we in this room would refer to as 'perseverance,'" said Phua.

During his time in Singapore, his family home was flooded twice. Phua, at a young age, needed to help account for the family's possessions and for the whereabouts of his siblings to ensure that they were safe.

Phua said that from the floods, he learned about compassion and responsibility.

The NSRDEC-hosted event also featured a short film, chronicling the life journey of Quoc Truong, a recently retired and highly regarded NSRDEC physical scientist.

Truong came to the United States from Vietnam as part of the first wave of Vietnamese refugees to come to America. He worked and studied hard to make a contribution to his new homeland.

"My heritage represents the refined, positive cultural upbringing, family values, beliefs, traditions, practices and customs my parents instilled in me and that their parents instilled in them -- and that I am hopefully passing down to my children throughout their lifetime," said Truong.

Truong dedicated his career to making life better and safer for the American Soldier. For more than 33 years, Truong worked on leading-edge technologies and the development of advanced, innovative materials and textiles that have greatly benefited the warfighter.

Truong expressed gratitude toward the United States and its people.

"When I came here from Vietnam, I was only 15," said Truong. "The American government and people were so helpful and so welcoming to our family. As a result, my eight brothers and sisters are now productive citizens."

Phua also expressed a love of country. After his family returned to the United States, Phua eventually joined the U.S. Army and became an American citizen.

"What comes along with American citizenship and serving in the uniform is that I know that when I die I will die free on my feet, not on my knees, with my head up," said Phua. "And that's a gift that only the free can bequeath onto others. A lot of us in this room have the opportunity to bequeath that gift onto others because of what we have volunteered to do and the profession that we have chosen. Because we have chosen to do that, our children and our grandchildren will be able to do that as well."

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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.