MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- In recognition of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, the Combat Center Equal Opportunity adviser, hosted a luncheon at the Combat Center Officer’s Club May 25.
This year's theme, “Liberty and Freedom for All,” honored the sacrifices of Asian and Pacific Americans in the defense of freedom and democracy.
“We remember the bravery of soldiers of Asian and Pacific descent who have served in our military,” said President George W. Bush in his proclamation. “These proud patriots stepped forward and fought for the security of our country and the peace of the world, and they will always hold a cherished place in our history.”
“The true celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month begins with each one of us,” said Gunnery Sgt. Luis Leiva, base equal opportunity adviser. “You don’t have to be of Asian descent to raise more awareness or to learn more about it.”
Leiva noted there is much to learn from history including the cultural traditions, ancestry, native language and unique experiences represented among the more than 30 ethnic groups from Asia and the Pacific.
Among its history lies significant military figures such as Wilbur Carl Sze, who in 1943, was commissioned as the first Chinese American Officer in the Marine Corps. Another figure, Chew-Een Lee, the son of Chinese immigrants, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1944 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1946.
He received America's second highest combat award, the Navy Cross, while serving as platoon commander assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
Aside from their military contributions, Asian and Pacific Americans introduced a rich cultural heritage representing many languages, ethnicities, and religious traditions.
“Over my 24 years in the Marine Corps I’ve had numerous opportunities to tour Asia and Okinawa either during training exercises or when I would take leave,” said Combat Center chief of staff Col. James R. Braden. “I would visit the region and fall in love with it because it has such a rich tradition. It has very vibrant people, and overall it’s a joyous region.”
During the luncheon attendees were entertained with traditional Asian and Pacific cultural dancing. Ratchanoo Workman, wife of Lance Cpl. Tod Workman, Bearmat, and Som Harz of the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital, dressed in traditional Thai crowns and golden dresses, to perform a Thai dance.
Three brothers, Charles, 8, Joey, 4, and Ryan Dykes, 2, sang an Okinawan song.
Five-year-old Emily Morgan sang a melody about Mount Fuji, commonly referred to as a lady because of her beauty.
Emily’s mother, Naomi Morgan, said the song also implies that the mountain is a person, with the peak of the mountain as a head and the base of the mountain as its feet. She said the head of Mount Fuji is so high above the clouds that it can only hear the thunder by its feet.
The final performance, Laura Lentz, mesmerized the audience with her hip swaying Hawaiian performance.
“Millions of Americans proudly trace their ancestry to the many nations that make up Asia and the Pacific islands,” said President Bush. “For generations, Americans of Asian and Pacific heritage have strengthened our nation through their achievements in all walks of life, including business, politics, education, community service, the arts and science.”
May was selected for the recognition because two significant events in history took place in that month: Japanese immigrants first arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843, and the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869.
Today, Asian and Pacific Americans are one of the fastest growing segments of our population, having increased in number from fewer than 1.5 million in 1970 to approximately 10.5 million in 2005 and they continue to play a vital role in the development of the nation.