From the beaches of Normandy to the streets of Mosul, and many conflicts in between, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders served proudly in the ranks of our nation’s military. Although relatively small percentage of the overall population—less than 7%—this group has made outsized contributions to our fighting forces. Some 33 Medal of Honor recipients are AAPIs.
In 1990, George H.W. Bush designated May as Asian American & Pacific Islander month in honor of this groups numerous contributions. This month now serves as a time to remember the many sacrifices and contributions made by AAPIs throughout the history of our nation. This particular month was chosen as a way to commemorate the first Japanese to immigrate to America in May 1843 and also to mark the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869. The majority of those who worked on the railroad were Chinese.
Within our own 3rd Infantry Division, the memory of one historic Asian American Pacific Islander looms large.
In 1951, Cpl. Hiroshi Miyamura, then a machinegun squad leader with 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd ID, found himself on the frontline of the Korean War facing down a determined enemy force. As the incoming Chinese military threatened to overrun his unit’s position, he volunteered to protect his comrades’ retreat. As the enemy approached, he singlehandedly dispatched 10 with his bayonet. By the time the conflict was over, Miyamura killed some 50 enemy combatants. He was eventually captured and spent 28 months as a prisoner of war. At the time of his release in 1953, he was told that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to the rank of sergeant.
In more recent years, AAPIs have taken part in numerous campaigns with the division include those in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Tony Aguto is of Filipino descent. He is one of seven currently serving Army general officers of AAPI heritage.
“I am proud to be a Dogface Soldier and to be a Filipino American,” said Aguto. “My family has history of service in the military that I am honored to represent. I’m proud to serve our Soldiers, Families, and our nation, and I think that’s what the greatest thing about the military is—regardless of race, regardless of gender, or any other discriminator—we serve and fight for each other.”
The Army finds its strength not only in its diversity, but in its ability to bring together people of different races, cultures and faiths who share the Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
This year’s theme of “Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service” focuses on diversity, inclusion and leadership to advance the AAPI community who have served in America’s Army since the Civil War.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Shayne Semetara, an armor crewman, is a native of Oahu, Hawaii, and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1998. “I originally joined the Army because I wanted a jumpstart in life, and I believed that each person has the ability to make a difference. I wanted to make that difference, then 9/11 happened and that really supported my belief that I could make a difference, and I signed up at 17 years old in September 2002.” He now serves as platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
U.S. Army Spc. Faalogo Nonu is a native of Pago Pago, American Samoa, and is a supply specialist with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. “Pago Pago is located in the South Pacific and is most known for its physical features and unique culture that emphasizes family, respect and selfless service.” Nonu came to the United States to join the Army in 2017. “I wanted to help out my parents after they did so much for me and my siblings, and I wanted to challenge myself and make a better life.” Nonu is currently enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University and working on a bachelor's degree with a major in mathematics.
U.S. Army Sgt. Mark Odum, an attack helicopter repairer, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to a Filipino mother and an African American father. He completed a rotation to Illesheim, Germany, in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve in 2017, and a deployment to Dahlke, Afghanistan, in 2019 in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel. Odum arrived at Hunter Army Airfield in August of 2020 and became a crew chief in 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. He is currently attending Savannah Technical College to receive an Airframe and Powerplant certification. His future plans include receiving a degree in Aviation Management.
U.S. Army Spc. Eric Amphavannasouk, a human resource specialist, grew up in Modesto, California. His family, originally from Laos, emigrated after the Vietnam War. Amphavannasouk joined the Army to travel, open up opportunities, and show his grandparents his appreciation for their sacrifices. Amphavannasouk is currently assigned to 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, and is preparing to attend a leadership course required to become a sergeant.
U.S. Army Spc. Jasmine Witmoyor is an Indian American and fire control specialist from Clifton, New Jersey. Witmoyor joined the Army after college and went to basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Witmoyor is the first female in her family to join the military. “I always wanted to join, but I never had the confidence until my husband pushed me to it; he told me to go for it.” Witmoyor has two children; her four year-old son Ayden and her two year-old daughter Savannah. She currently serves with 3rd Infantry Division Artillery. “I wanted to join a combat job. I wanted to prove to my daughter that females can do it. Combat jobs aren’t limited to gender.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Antiporta, an armor crewman, was born in Stockton, California and is a first generation Filipino American. “It's a proud feeling to be serving as Pacific Islander.” His mother, Evangeline Antiporta, a native of Tagbilaran Bohol, Philippines, chose to move to the United States so she could make a better life for her and her child. Coming from a big family, Antiporta wanted to make a change and inspire those younger than him. “I wanted to be an inspiration to others around me so they can have and be more.”
U.S. Army Pfc. Rafael Holgad, a wheeled vehicle mechanic, was born in Santo Tomas, Batangas in the Philippines and moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina in April 2019. Holgad joined the Army and went to basic training at Fort Jackson in October 2019. Holgado has two uncles who retired from the Army, as well as three cousins who currently serve; one in the Air Force and two in the Army. He currently serves with 3rd Infantry Division Artillery. “I love the Army. It has always been my dream.” Holgado hopes to retire from the Army as a sergeant major.