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News | May 30, 2018

Asian American, Pacific Islander Heritage Month champions many cultures

By Thomas Perry DCMA Public Affairs

May’s flowers welcome Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It celebrates the cultural, economic, societal, industrial, academic and military contributions of a wide-range of Americans.

According to the heritage month’s Library of Congress-hosted website, Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

The 31-day commemoration honors the historical and present influences these cultures have made and continue to make to American progress. May was chosen because it marks the anniversary of Japanese immigrants’ first arrival in America May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad by predominantly Chinese laborers May 10, 1869.

Staff from the Defense Contract Management Agency joined the Department of Defense global community in celebration with events hosted at various locations. Kevin Morgan — the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity office Special Emphasis Programs, or SEP, manager — organized the DCMA headquarters event.

“The goal of all special emphasis observances is to bring awareness to the strengths and talents women, minorities and individuals with disabilities bring to our organization,” said Morgan, who said he is always available to answer questions from the special emphasis coordinators in the field. “I want the attendees to come away from these events with the knowledge that the different cultures — in this case the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — bring knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences to the workforce. These diverse perspectives allow for DCMA to be more innovative, impactful and inclusive while supporting the warfighter.”

In alignment with that effort, he highlighted AAPI individuals throughout the month through agency-wide emails. On May 16, he featured the accomplishments of retired Navy Rear Adm. Ming Erh Chang, who passed away in October at the age of 85:

“Born in Shanghai in 1932, son of Chief Petty Officer Yu Ching Chang, United States Navy, Chang had the distinction of becoming the first naturalized Asian-American naval officer to achieve flag rank in the United States military. Rear Adm. Chang served 34 years (from 1955 to 1990) in the U.S. Navy, during which time he received the Legion of Merit (Combat V) and Bronze Star (Combat V) medals.

“Rear Adm. Chang graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1955. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in September 1955 and subsequently commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He finished his distinguished career as inspector general for the Navy from 1987-1990. After retirement, he became vice president and corporate director for the Pacific Region at Raytheon and the president of MEC International, LLC.”

As an immigrant, the 34-year veteran’s trailblazing efforts are just one example of the military success Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have earned. Historically, both individuals and heritage-centric units have served with honor.

The DoD highlighted more AAPI Americans in a heritage month special report:

— Navy Rear Adm. (Gordon Paiʻea) Chung-Hoon served during World War II and became the Navy’s first Asian-American flag officer. He attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1934. He was the first Asian American, U.S. citizen to graduate from the academy. He earned the Navy Cross and Silver Star medals for extraordinary heroism as commanding officer of USS Sigsbee from May 1944 to October 1945.

— Susan Ahn Cuddy joined the Navy in 1942 after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. She was the first Asian American woman to join the Navy and became the first female to operate flexible-mount or turret-mounted machine guns on an aircraft in the Navy. She left the Navy in 1946 at the rank of lieutenant.

— Florence Smith Finch, the daughter of an American soldier and a Filipino mother, was working for the Army during World War II when the Japanese occupied the Philippines. Claiming Filipino citizenship, she avoided being imprisoned with other enemy nationals at the Santo Tomas Internment camp. She joined the underground resistance movement and smuggled food, medicine and supplies to American captives.

— Army Col. Young-Oak Kim served the nation with distinction in two wars. During the Korean War in 1951, Kim was the first Asian American to lead a combat battalion in a war. Kim is also the only Korean American to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at the Battle of Anzio during World War II. At the rank of major, Kim became the first ethnic minority to command a regular combat battalion, the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment.

As a modern-day example of AAPI success, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong served as the guest speaker for the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, 2018 observance.

“All of the things that influenced my life gave me a strong sense of respect, honor, integrity and caring not only for people, for my surroundings,” said Wong, who was commissioned in May 1972 as a distinguished graduate from the University of Hawaii’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Program. “Community is not about anyone person, it’s about partnering together so our world can be a better place and we can take care of one another. This is a strong message carried by the Pacific Islanders, and is echoed in the theme for this month, ‘Unite Our Vision by Working Together.’”

It was common to observe many of the first AAPIs working together because they were often assigned to segregated units prior to the 1948 integration of the armed forces.

— The U.S. Army’s 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments served with distinction during World War II. The 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment was activated July 13, 1942, at the Salinas California Rodeo Grounds. The 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment was activated Nov. 22, 1942, at Fort Ord, California. Personnel included Filipinos living in the United States and American officers. The regiments’ members departed for New Guinea, April 6, 1944, and fought in Leyte and Samar during the Philippine Liberation Campaign.

— The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was actually composed of two distinct units: the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. These two units were formed independently at different times and do not share a common lineage. The 100th Battalion would eventually become the 442nd’s 1st battalion in June 1944. The 100th Infantry Battalion was activated June 12, 1942, composed of more than 1,400 American-born Japanese called “Nisei,” or second generation from Hawaii. The 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, comprised of mostly Japanese American soldiers, was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. military history. The 4,000 men who initially came in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly three and a half times. In total, about 14,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations.

— The 407th Air Service Squadron and 987th Signal Company were Chinese-Americans drafted into World War II and ended up serving in the all-Chinese American unit supporting the 14th Air Force’s famed Flying Tigers. The fighter squadrons, flying the shark-faced P-40s, defended China against Japanese forces.

— Philippine Scouts were the first and last of what some might call American colonial troops; but they were not colonials. The first scout organizations were created in 1901 during the early days of the American occupation of the Philippine Islands by the induction of Filipinos into the service of the U.S. armed forces. Their mission was to help restore order and peace to a troubled area. In the ensuing two decades, the Philippine Scouts took part in subduing the fierce and warlike Moro tribes on the island of Mindanao and in the Jolo Archipelago, and in establishing tranquility throughout the islands.

— The U.S. Army Forces in the Far East was a military formation of the Army active from 1941 to 1946. The command’s headquarters was created on July 26, 1941, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur as commander; Brig. Gen. Richard Sutherland, as the chief of staff; and Lt. Col. Richard Marshall, as the deputy chief of staff. The core of this command (including MacArthur, Marshall and Sutherland) was drawn from the Office of the Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government.

To learn more about the contributions of these and other historically significant units, check visit this Department of Veterans Affairs fact sheet.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is the latest special emphasis program championed by the DCMA Equal Employment Opportunity office and its director Linda Galimore.

“I highly encourage attendance at these events to learn and understand our differences and similarities. Understanding each other breaks down barriers and fosters an environment where we can prosper,” said Galimore, who believes current and future leaders particularly benefit from attending these events. “Understanding the challenges and successes of different ethnicities and social groups is vital to being a successful and effective leader. We come from all walks of life, with different beliefs and ways of communicating. A leader masters the art and science of effective communication. This mastery in part comes from deep exposure to the various groups. Special emphasis events offer these opportunities and serve as mentoring opportunities for future leaders.”

Morgan encouraged contract management office team members to submit event recaps and images of their events to the Special Emphasis Program inbox. The submitted information will be shared on the program’s 360 page.