The month of May is designated as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to honor the contributions and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans.
AAPI captures 50 different ethnic and language groups and is one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States according to the U.S. Census. The Pacific Islands are divided into three regions: Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. In the United States, the most common ethnic groups among Pacific Islanders are Native Hawaiians, Samoans, and Chamorros. (“AAPI Demographics: Data on Pacific Islander ethnicities, education, and income”)
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month began as a week-long celebration in 1978 and in 1992 was enshrined permanently as a commemorative month. We celebrate in May due to two historic anniversaries, the first-known Japanese immigrant to come to the United States on May 7, 1843, and in honor of the completion of the transcontinental railroad built by 20,000 Chinese workers on May 10, 1869.
Despite often facing racial discrimination, Asian American, Hawaiian Natives, and Pacific Islander veterans have played a key role and bravely raised their hand to serve their country since the War of 1812. Here are some of their stories. (“Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders | The United States Army”)
Activated on February 1, 1943, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This was the only nearly all-Japanese unit during World War II. Even though these soldiers often faced prejudice and many came from internment camps they were willing to serve their country. The unit’s motto was “Go For Broke” and the unit earned distinction in the European and North African campaigns. Learn their history.
22 Medal of Honor WWII Era Recipients
The Congressional Medal of Honor has been awarded to more than 3,400 individuals but sometimes those deserving do not receive recognition until much later. As was the case for 22 Asian American soldiers who did not receive their Medal of Honor until 2000. The government began reviewing eligibility in the 1990s, in acknowledgment that many deserving had not been awarded due to racism. Many of those individuals were part of the 442 Regiment. Learn their history.
WASP – Women Air Force Service Pilots
Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese American woman to join the WASP during World War II. She earned her pilot’s license in 1932 and was one of the first Chinese American women to do so. She went to China after the Japanese invaded Manchuria to volunteer as a pilot but was only allowed to fly commercial aircraft and eventually placed at a desk job due to her gender. In 1937, while she was in Guangzhou the city was bombed and she ended up as a war refugee. In 1942, after the creation of the WASP program, Lee applied and was accepted into the 43-W-4 training class. Lee died in the line of duty on November 25, 1944. Learn her history.
Learn about Maggie Gee, the only other Chinese American woman in the WASPs.
Daniel K. Inouye
Daniel Inouye was a Hawaiian native who joined the 442nd Regiment and served in the European Campaign. He was injured during a key battle to secure a road near San Terenzo, Italy, resulting in his right arm being amputated. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton along with others of the 442nd Regiment who had not been recognized previously. He went on to study law and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawaii, serving as the first Japanese American elected to Congress. He was then elected to the Senate and held his seat until his death in 2012. Learn his history.
Female Combat Veterans in Congress
Tulsi Gabbard represented Hawaii’s 2nd district from 2013 to 2021. She is an Iraq War veteran, served in the Hawaii Army National Guard, and is now a lieutenant colonel with Army Reserve in California. Learn her history
Tammy Duckworth is the first disabled female veteran to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and then the U.S. Senate. She is the second female Asian-American senator. Senator Duckworth served in the Iraq War as a Blackhawk pilot and lost both her legs in 2004 when her helicopter was struck. Learn her history
These are just a few stories of Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans who have shown grit, courage, and determination in the face of adversity. The Wyakin Foundation is honored to be in the service of our veterans of all backgrounds.
“AAPI Demographics: Data on Pacific Islander ethnicities, education, and income.” USAFacts, 17 April 2023, https://usafacts.org/articles/aapi-demographics-data-on-pacific-islander-ethnicities-education-and-income/. Accessed 24 May 2023.
“Asian American and Pacific Islander Fact Sheet.” Veterans Affairs, https://www.va.gov/centerforminorityveterans/docs/factSheetAanhpiOnePage.pdf. Accessed 24 May 2023.
“Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander – Office of Resolution Management, Diversity & Inclusion (ORMDI).” Veterans Affairs, https://www.va.gov/ormdi/diversityinclusion/aapi.asp. Accessed 24 May 2023.
“Asian Americans in the U.S. Military.” Naval History and Heritage Command, 23 May 2022, https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/diversity/asian-americans-pacific-islanders-in-the-navy/asian-americans-us-military.html. Accessed 26 May 2023.
“ASIAN AMERICANS & PACIFIC ISLANDERS IN THE MILITARY: FROM SERVICE TO CIVILIAN LIFE.” IVMF, https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Asian-Americans-and-Pacific-Islanders-in-the-Military-From-Service-to-Civilian-Life-accessible.pdf. Accessed 24 May 2023.
“Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders | The United States Army.” Army.mil, https://www.army.mil/asianpacificamericans/timeline.html. Accessed 24 May 2023.
“Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders | The United States Army.” Army.mil, https://www.army.mil/asianpacificamericans/profiles.html#medalofhonor. Accessed 24 May 2023.
“Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2023.” Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, https://asianpacificheritage.gov/about.html. Accessed 24 May 2023.