WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 18, 2009) -- The Army observed Asian Pacific American Heritage Month today at the Pentagon with National Guard Soldier, Black Hawk pilot and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth serving as guest speaker in the Hall of Heroes.
Thailand-born Duckworth, the daughter of a Marine who served in Vietnam, was appointed last month as assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.
While on a combat mission in Iraq in 2004, her helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. As a result of the attack, she lost both legs and partial use of one arm. She continues to serve as a major with the Illinois National Guard.
"As Asian Americans we share a heritage we can all be proud of," she said. "America's heritage is rich because of the presence of Asian Americans. It was 150 years ago that Asian Americans literally united this country from east to west with their labor when they built the railroads."
Duckworth recalled how she wouldn't be alive today had it not been for her helicopter crew made up of an Asian American, a Black American, a Caucasian American and a Hispanic American.
"Just by the nature of who we were, our diversity sends a message around the world of what a great country this is," she said. "A country of opportunity, of hope, of freedom and of the ability to be anything you want to be regardless of race or ancestry. Of that I'm proud."
Before introducing Duckworth, Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr., director of the Army Staff who hosted the ceremony, opened his remarks citing the contributions of Asian-Pacific Americans during World War II campaigns and how their contributions are no less distinguished than Asian-Pacific Americans who serve in today's war on terrorism.
Huntoon introduced the audience to four Asian-Pacific Americans who had served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and with the Military Intelligence Service during World War II: Tech 4th Class Kelly Kuwayama, Tech 4th Class Terry Shima, Technical Sgt. Grant Hirabayashi and 1st Lt. Grant Ichikawa.
"In the campaigns of 1944 and 1945, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team performed literally without peer among U.S. military units in Italy, Germany and France," he said. "For its size and time in combat - less than two years - those units remain to date the most decorated units in U.S. military history, period, with 18,000 individual decorations including 21 Medals of Honor, 53 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 5,200 Bronze Stars and 9,486 Purple Hearts and no less than seven Presidential Unit Citations."