Story and photos by Will Ravenstein
1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs
Fort Riley and Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division continued a tradition of honoring the heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders May 22 at Riley's Conference Center.
The Fort Riley Pacific Islander Dance Group and music inspired by Asian American or Pacific Islander artists performed by the 1st Inf. Div. Jazz Band entertained the packed room prior to and during a sampling of authentic food.
"We love sharing our talent and culture with friends," said Ave Toala, wife of Sgt. Setu Toala, practice manager, Dental Health Activity, Irwin Army Community Hospital and native of Samoa. "It's a privilege for us to be here. We love it and we've been looking forward to it."
Toala said it is also important to keep the heritage, traditions and customs alive in their household.
"We keep it going … I want my kids to learn the culture and to learn and to go out there," she said. "They love the culture, they want to learn about it. I know that we are not on the island, but we have to keep going."
In 1992, Congress expanded the 1978 resolution establishing Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week to a month-long celebration according to www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2019/asian-american-pacific-islander.html. The celebration originally began the first 10 days of the month to commemorate two milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: The first Japanese immigrants -- May 7, 1843; and the completion of the transcontinental railroad -- May 10, 1869.
Lt. Col. Courtney Sugai, 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade commander, spoke of the many accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Island natives in America while also talking about her life growing up in Kaua'I, Hawaii.
"Hawaii is a special place because of its land, its people, its diversity," she said. "While Hawaii has its own native language and bloodline, that of the kanaka maoli, modern Hawaii is cosmopolitan -- where being an ethnic minority is anything but unusual. It's common for kids from Hawaii to have several names. Depending on your background, you could be called by your Hawaiian name at home, your English name at school and your Chinese name at your grandparent's house. At least that's how it was for me."
Asian Americans have served the nation since the Civil War with thousands fighting in the Army.
By the end of World War I, there were nearly 180,000 Asian Americans living in the U.S., including about 100,000 Japanese, 60,000 Chinese and 5,000 Filipinos according to www.army.mil/asianpacificamericans/history/. Many joined the Army and served with distinction on the battlefields of France despite numerous instances of discrimination.
"On Dec. 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii," Sugai said. "The University of Hawaii Reserve Officer Training Corp was activated to defend Hawaii from its invaders. Named the Hawaii Territorial Guard, they were issued rifles and five rounds a piece and ordered to guard key terrain on the island of Oahu. Many of them were American-born Japanese called Nisei.
"But on Feb. 19, 1942, president Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which reclassified all Nisei as 4C alien enemies," Sugai said. "All Soldiers with Japanese ancestry serving in the Territorial Guard were dismissed, told to turn in their weapons and go home. But Hawaii was their home -- and their home had been attacked."
Many petitioned to serve in the Army, Sugai said, even if it was without weapons. They wanted to serve the country they had loyalty to -- the United States.
These Soldiers would later join other Japanese--American Soldiers and mixed raced Soldiers to form the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The Hawaii-born Nisei made up two-thirds of the regiment according to brochure handed out at the ceremony.
"Today the 100th Bn., 442nd (RCT) is the only infantry unit in the Army Reserves," Sugai said. "With headquarters at Fort Shafter in Honolulu, Hawaii, it is part of the 9th [Mission Support Command] that has the responsibility of maintaining the maximum state of readiness in the event it is needed in the combat zone."
After the ceremony, Sugai was presented a plaque by Col. Anthony T. Murtha, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., commander.
DID YOU KNOW?
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service during the entire history of the U.S. military. The 4,000 men, who initially came in April 1943, had to be replaced nearly 3 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations. -- www.army.mil/asianpacificamericans/history/