ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala --This year's theme for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month, chosen by Federal Asian Pacific American Council, is Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service.
Each May, the Department of Defense uses this month to pay tribute to the generations of Asian American Pacific Islanders that have enriched our nation’s history, and continue to be pivotal to our success as a nation as we move into the future.
May was selected for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month because of two historical events that occurred during the month. These two events include May 7, 1843, when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States, and May 10, 1869, when the first transcontinental railroad was completed with substantial contributions from Chinese immigrants.
Today, many in the APPI community continue to make a significant impact in the country, especially in the armed forces.
One such individual of note is U.S. Senator Ladda Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth, a Thai American and Purple Heart recipient, has dedicated her life to serving others. She served in the United States Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In fact, Duckworth was among the first handful of Army women to fly in combat. In 2004, her helicopter was struck and caused her to lose both legs and partial use of her right arm. After recovering, she dedicated her life to working with veterans. In 2009, she was appointed to be the Assistant Secretary of the U.S.. Department of Veteran Affairs before being elected as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2016.
Major Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the son of Chinese immigrants, was the first Asian American Marine Corps officer. Lee was awarded several medals for bravery during his service. His most famous act of bravery occurred in November 1950 during the Korean war when he conducted a solo mission in heavy snow to drive back Chinese soldiers. During the mission, Lee called out Mandarin commands, successfully confusing the enemy and driving them back. Lee received the Navy Cross and Silver Star as well as two Purple Hearts for his service. He died in 2014 at the age of 88 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.
Rear Admiral Huan Nguyen became the first Vietnamese American to be promoted to the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. Nguyen was born in Vietnam, the son of an armor officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, his family was killed. He was also shot, but escaped and found safety with his uncle. Nguyen and his uncle later became U.S. citizens as political refugees and Nguyen went on to earn a bachelor of science and master's degree in electrical engineering. He also received a Navy direct commission through the Reserve Engineering Duty Officer Program. Nguyen’s awards include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, two Marine Corps Commendation Medals and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Captain Kwang-Ping Hsu was the first foreign-born cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Hsu achieved the rank of lieutenant commander in the first 10 years of his career and earned two Coast Guard Air Medals for exceptional air rescue efforts. He is known for his excellent skills as a pilot and rescuer and his compassion and sense of humor. Hsu died in 2007.
In 2020, Chief Master Sergeant JoAnne S. Bass became the Air Force’s 19th Chief Master Sergeant. Born in Hawaii to a Korean mother and a retired U.S. Warrant officer father, Bass became the first woman and person of Asian Americans decent to be elevated to the services highest enlisted rank.
Asian American Pacific Islanders have played a significant role in the U.S. Armed Forces, providing servant leadership throughout all branches.
And those in the AAPI community also make impact across many fields and disciplines.
Yet, despite these contributions, many continue to face challenges and are met with violence. According to Pew Research Center, the crime rate against Asian American adults has risen 81 percent compared to last year which was 56 percent.
To combat this, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved a resolution that condemns the violence, harassment and acts of bias against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The resolution confirms the Commission’s commitment to stop all forms of harassment and discrimination against the Asian American Pacific Islander community, to ensure equal opportunity, inclusion, and dignity for all.