The waves smoothly crawl up the beach and retreat in rhythmic succession as if the shore and the ocean are in an intricate dance that only the two know. The sound of the waves mimic that of a mother lovingly shushing her infant back to sleep. The sun bathes down, lightly blanketing anything it touches while the palms sway as if dancing on the sideline to their own rhythm.

Most daydream from their cubicle or on their commute, wishing they could be in their own little oasis. While for most the best they could hope for is a vacation, for others, this is home. May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month, which celebrates the cultures, religions, foods and people from the vast Asian Pacific geographical areas. This area spans from the entire continent of Asia, through India, China, Japan and Korea, as well as the Filipino, Samoan and Hawaiian islands.

History

It seems impossible to try to do justice to all the cultures encompassed in that area in one solitary month. It is even more surprising that when it first began, in June 1978, Asian Pacific Islander Heritage was only celebrated for one week. A week in May was selected o commemorate the first Japanese immigration, of more than 400,000 men and women, on May 7, 1843. It is also important to distinguish the completion of the transcontinental railroad which was completed on May 10, 1869. Finally, in 1992, Asian Pacific Heritage earned its own month.

Asian Pacific Islanders in the U.S. Military

One of the critical characteristics of our Military is its diversity. 46,4020 Asian and Pacific Islanders are Department of Defense civilians, 11,613 of are military officers, and 57,678 are enlisted servie members. The earliest record of Asian-American service members dates back to the War of 1812. Almost a century later, in 1911, U.S. Army Pvt. Jose Nisperos became the first Asian Pacific Islander to receive the Medal of Honor. It took 83 more years before the US would see the first military female appointed as White House physician, Navy Capt. Eleanor Mariano. In 2000, she became the first female Filipino American Navy Admiral.

Heroic Asian Pacific Islander Soldiers

Often discrimination can hold a person back from what is rightfully theirs. The US is making great strides to ensure that Soldiers receive the awards due to them, regardless of racial and religious background. US Army Lieutenant Inouye’s story is one such story. In 1945, US Army Lieutenant Inouye fought for nine months in grueling conditions in the mountains adjoining Italy to France. While Inouye was leading a flank attack, his platoon was ambushed by three German MG43 machine guns. At close range, these guns worked like knives chopping up the platoon of 30 men. Even though Inouye had been shot in the stomach, he ignored his wound and crawled toward the attacking forces.

Once within 10 yards of the German bunker, Inouye raised a grenade, hoping to end the ambush and save his Soldiers. As he raised his arm, a German Soldier shot a rifle grenade, striking his elbow and effectively severing his arm. His right arm, fell with the grenade still clutch in its fist. Inouye’s Soldiers began to rush to his side. He ordered them to remain back, fearing that his right hand would involuntarily relax, and drop the grenade. Risking his own life again, Inouye grabbed the grenade from his severed hand, and with his only remaining hand, tossed it into the bunker, effectively silencing the remaining German resistance. At the time Inouye received the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart for his acts of dedication and bravery that day.

The DOD reviewed past DSC awards, looking for those who deserved MOH but weren’t awarded due to racial and religious discrimination, at the times of nomination. After review, Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton.

Honoring Asian Pacific Islander Heritage is much deeper than just celebrating culture, foods, and music. It’s about diversity and unifying our nation. It is celebrating and honoring Soldiers that went above and beyond for our nation. It is remembering those who gave all and weren’t given the recognition they deserve due to religious and racial discrimination.