ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- The contributions of Asian-American and Pacific Islanders to the United States were celebrated in an observance hosted by First Army on May 31 in Heritage Hall here.

Retired Lt. Col. Max Muramoto was the guest speaker. He served in the Army from 1986 to 1999, then volunteered to return to active duty after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He currently serves as a firearms instructor and training coordinator at the Fort Bliss Rod and Gun Club.

First Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Stephen Twitty, told the audience, "Max and I have known each other for 33 years. We were platoon leaders together in 1985 and 1986. He immediately established himself as the best lieutenant in that battalion. No one could keep up with him. He was just a superior officer. And I've had the opportunity to work with him on three occasions after that, mostly in combat. It's been a pleasure working with Max all these years."

In his remarks, Muramoto touched on the diversity that falls under the Asian-American and Pacific Islander umbrella. "Our group is defined by geography," he said. "We are people from China, India, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Burma, Singapore, Guam, Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, and many other places. Because of this, our culture, heritage, history, and customs are not common but individual. We do not speak the same language, sing and dance to the same music, or enjoy the same foods. Each of us is individual."

His family's story can be seen as a microcosm of those who came from other countries to live the American dream.

"My mother and father were both products of immigration from Asia to the United States or one of its territories," Muramoto said. "My grandfather came to Hawaii to work as a fisherman in the 1920s and start a family. My father went to public schools in Hawaii and eventually became a merchant seaman during World War II. Later, he utilized the GI Bill to obtain his baccalaureate at New Mexico State University, and later a doctorate from the University of Arizona.

"My mother's family came to the U.S. as immigrants and settled in Tucson, Ariz., where the family ran a small grocery store. My mother and her five siblings worked in the grocery store and studied hard. Five of six obtained a high school diploma, and four earned baccalaureates. My mother earned her bachelor's and master's from the University of Arizona."


Like Muramoto and his father, many others of Asian and Pacific Island descent have served in the U.S. military since the Civil War. But one of the wars included a dark moment in the country's history, which Muramoto addressed.

"A defining historical event in Asian--American history came on Dec. 7, 1941, with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor," he said. "Americans often looked at any Asian with suspicion, anger, and sometimes even hatred. In the confusion and fear, more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were forcefully moved to desolate and remote areas to live in internment camps from 1942 until the end of World War II."

Despite this treatment, Japanese-Americans made valuable contributions to the war effort.

"Another defining historical event occurred when Japanese-American men wanted to serve America and volunteered for the draft at the start of World War II," Muramoto said. "They were American citizens yet were rejected and classified as enemy aliens. They were finally allowed to join the Army and were assigned to segregated Army units made up of Japanese-Americans but commanded by Caucasians. Listen to the amazing count of World War II combat awards for the Army units of Japanese-Americans: Eight Presidential Unit Citations. 21 Medals of Honor, 9,486 Purple Hearts, 32 Distinguished Service Crosses, 587 Silver Stars and 5,200 Bronze Star Medals."

Muramoto stressed that his family's experience is only one of many similar stories.

"We are proud to be Americans and we are proud to be Asian Pacific Islanders. Please get to know us," he told attendees. "The more you understand us, the closer we become. In keeping with this year's theme, diversity is not a disadvantage. It is a powerful American strength. We do not ask for an advantage over anyone. We are not better than others. We are not less than others. We simply want an equal chance to show what we can do. On behalf of all Asian Pacific Islanders, thank you for this wonderful event to recognize a small minority of Americans in our great nation."