Asian Pacific American leaders influence history, broaden perspectives

  • Published
  • By Maj. C.F. Vivien Wu
  • 99th Flying Training Squadron
In October of 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage. President George H.W. Bush further expanded this celebration in 1990 by designating May as the month of observance of Asian Pacific American Heritage.

American society has cause for such celebration; many notable Asian Pacific Americans have influenced the history pages of the United States in fields ranging from engineering, medicine, business, law, politics, media, entertainment and sports. Names such as Jackie Chan, Tiger Woods, Ann Curry, Sanjay Kumar, Gus Lee, and Congresswomen Patsy Mink are just a few of the influential Asian Pacific Americans making headlines today.

Of note are the many Asian Pacific Americans who have made remarkable contributions in the military with records of Asian Pacific Americans serving back to the 19th century.

Chinese-American William Ah Hang was one of the first Asian Pacific Americans to enlist in the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War. During World War II, approximately 25,000 Japanese-Americans proved their courage on the battlefields. Additionally, more than 6,000 Nisei (first-generation, American-born Japanese) trained as interpreters and translators in the U.S. Army's Intelligence Service Language School while 3,700 linguists served in combat. These men helped crack the codes used during the conflict that led to the eventual defeat of the Royal Japanese Military.

In Guam, Chamorro citizens aided American soldiers with food, water and shelter, which enabling them to successfully escape capture by the Japanese. Among these U.S. soldiers was a chief radioman, George Tweed, who eluded the Japanese and was able to signal two destroyers involved in the preparations for the critical U.S. invasion that reclaimed Guam as a U.S. territory. More than 20,000 Chinese-Americans also served during the conflict with Filipino- and Korean-Americans alongside.

During World War II, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed primarily of Asian-Americans, was the most decorated unit of its size with seven Presidential Distinguished Citations and 18,000 individual decorations, including the Medal of Honor, 47 Distinguished Service Crosses, 350 Sliver Stars, 810 Bronze Stars, and more than 3,600 Purple Hearts.

Not only have Asian Pacific American men made their mark in U.S. military history, Asian Pacific American women have proven themselves as well. The first Asian Pacific American woman entered military service when the Women's Army Corps recruited 50 Japanese- and Chinese-American women to be translators. Chinese-American women served as "Air WACs" in 1943, working in the Aircraft and Warning Service operating listening posts when enemy attacks on the U.S. were expected. They also served ferrying aircraft for the Army Air Corps. Chinese-American Hazel Ying Lee was one of 38 Women Air Force Service Pilots who died in the line of duty.

Pilipino-Americans came to the aid of American troops in the Philippines by smuggling food and medicine to American prisoners of war and carried vital information about Japanese troop movement to the American forces. Josefina Guerrero mapped Japanese fortifications at the Manila waterfront and provided information about secret tunnels, air-raid shelters and new installations. She smuggled food, clothing and medicine to American POWs. By providing detailed maps of the enemy fortifications, she saved members of the 17th Infantry Division that enabled soldiers to avoid land mines.

Since World War II many Asian Pacific Americans have served in combat units from the Korean War to present day conflicts. Asian Pacific Americans have held a long history of contributions to the U.S. military and continue to keep alive the proud heritage and legacy their predecessors established. Currently, there are more than 1,600 Asian Pacific American officers and 8,100 enlisted members in the Air Force.

This year's observance theme, "Leadership to Meet the Challenges of a Changing World," was established by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, the oldest and most active organization of Asian Pacific Americans in government. With this theme, the council hopes to broaden the perspectives of Americans through education and exposure to the influence Asian Pacific Americans have had on the American society. Through Asian Pacific American leaders, we can all learn new ideas, opportunities and skills for adapting to the changing world.