"Generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have helped shape our history and bravely defended the United States."

U.S. Army Human Resources Command Force Sustainment Division Chief Col. Christine Enriquez addressed a large gathering of people gathered May 31 to celebrate Fort Knox's 2019 Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance.

"They proudly served their country despite racial prejudice and adversity," said the guest speaker in the Sadowski Center.

Celebrated every year in May, the observance recognizes the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians to the United States and the challenges they faced. This ethnic group currently makes up roughly 5.4 percent of Army personnel.

Included among Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans are 33 Medal of Honor recipients.

Enriquez shared vignettes of some the nation's most heralded Asian American Pacific Islander military veterans, including:

- Pvt. Jose Nisperos, the first Asian/Pacific-American to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 24, 1911, while engaged in combat at Lapurap, Basilan, Philippine Islands, during the Spanish-American War -- Serving with 34th Company, Philippine Scouts, Nisperos was badly wounded when his left arm was broken and lacerated with several spear wounds. Even though he could no longer stand, Nisperos continued to fire his rifle with one hand until the enemy was driven back, aiding in preventing the annihilation of his squad.

- Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye was one of 22 men with 442d Regimental Combat Team in World War II to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He served in the U.S. senate from 1963 until his death in 2012.

- Japanese-American Gen. Eric Shinseki served two tours in Vietnam as an artillery forward observer. He later served as the Army Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003.

- Enriquez' father, Nicolas Dela Cruz Caburao, retired from the Navy after serving two tours in Vietnam. He then worked at the Department of the Navy for 20 years.

"My personal hero, my father, encountered adversity and discrimination, yet he never dwelled on those hardships," Enriquez said. "Instead, he shared his positive experiences with me. He loved serving in the Navy, was proud of his service to our nation, and had a profound respect and appreciation for the opportunities and freedoms we share in the United States.

"I joined the military because I wanted to be like my father, positively impacting Soldiers' lives, helping their families, and serving our great nation."

Enriquez said she believes one of the reasons the United States has the best military in the world is "because we respect and appreciate our diverse cultures, treat each other with dignity and respect, appreciate each other's differences, and leverage those differences to make us stronger."