• Luncheon honors Asian, Pacific Islander heritage

  • Post celebrates Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

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  • Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
    Staff Sgt. Melissa French, executive administrative assistant to the Combined Arms Center command sergeant major, was the guest speaker for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Luncheon May 17 at the Frontier Conference Center.
    French, a third generation American of Micronesian ancestry, was born and raised in Pohnpei, the capital state of the Federated States of Micronesia. She spoke about her family history and historical contributions made by Americans of Asian Pacific heritage.
    “The Asian Pacific Islander group is a small minority in America, only 5 percent of the population,” French said. “We are from China, India, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Burma, Singapore, Guam, Saipan, Samoa, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and many other parts of the world.
    She said Asian culture is diverse regarding the distinct culture, history and customs of the various groups.
    “We do not speak the same language, dance or sing to the same music, or enjoy the same foods,” French said. “Each of us is unique.”
    French said her grandparents were farmers on a small island in Micronesia who immigrated to Saipan in the late 19th century. She said her father served in the Federated States of Micronesia government and retired after 30 years in government. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom whose primary role was raising the family’s 13 children.
    “My parents started their family in Saipan. Among my brothers and sisters, I am the second to the youngest,” French said. “We children learned customs, honored elders, obeyed the rules (and) did well in school. Our parents told us that education was the passageway to achieve success.”
    French said her family lived modestly and was not much different from the millions of others who immigrated to the United States. She said most immigrant groups share similar characteristic paths to success — hard work, close-knit families, old country values and customs, emphasis on education and dreams of success.
    “Each time we celebrate the heritage, the native culture, and the contributions of various races, we note the uniqueness of each — the African-American, the Native American, the Hispanic, the Asian, the German, the French, the English, the Irish,” French said. “But as we acknowledge these unique characteristics and backgrounds of our individual peoples, we should not lose sight of the positive reasons why we celebrate these cultures.”
    French said people should celebrate how these inherent differences contribute to society. She said the variety of the types of people in America is its strength.
    “We should be celebrating (uniqueness) to acknowledge the contributions of our diverse heritage, whether we are white or black or yellow or brown or red,” French said. “It is this mingling of different peoples that results in the richness, beauty and strength of the tapestry of people who make up our nation.”
    Page 2 of 3 - French said Asian and Pacific Americans are a diverse mix of peoples whose backgrounds come from more than half of the globe.
    “A significant contribution to Asian-Pacific American heritage is the Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team,” French said. “These units were composed of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and other areas who were in detention camps.”
    French said the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team went on to become the most highly decorated units of World War II. She said those combat awards for the two Army units of Japanese-Americans included eight Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, 10,486 Purple Hearts, 32 Distinguished Service Crosses, 587 Silver Stars and 5,200 Bronze Star Medals.
    “In 21 months of combat in Europe, these soldiers were awarded 18,143 individual combat awards for valor,” French said. “One of the most well-known members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was Daniel K. Inouye.”
    French told how Inouye lost his right arm while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge called the Colle Mustello near Tuscany, Italy. She said he received a battlefield commission, was promoted to lieutenant and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
    “He (Inouye) is among 30 Asian-Americans who have received America’s highest military award,” French said. “He ultimately served as one of the United States senators from Hawaii for nine consecutive terms from 1963 until his death on Dec. 17, 2012.”
    French segued to the story of Capt. Jose Calugas, who at 23 joined the Army’s Philippine Scouts during World War II. She said he received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Bataan and also fought to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese.
    “After noticing one of his unit’s gun batteries destroyed and its crew killed, he (Calugas) gathered several members together, dug in and attempted to defend the line,” French said. “He was ultimately captured along with other members of his unit and forced to march to a distant enemy prison camp.”
    French said Calugas had won various military decorations before he died in 1998 at age 90.
    “Mine is a simple story, among that of the millions of Asian Pacific Islanders in America,” French said. “I eagerly and proudly joined the Army in 2003 in Guam to follow in the legacy of the brave Japanese-American soldiers that my grandfather told me stories of when I was a little girl. They loved their country, as I do, and served courageously and honorably.”
    French said in keeping with the luncheon’s theme, “United our voices and speaking together,” she encouraged understanding by getting to know each other as a nation of many cultures.
    Page 3 of 3 - “On behalf of all Asian Pacific Islanders, thank you for this wonderful event to recognize a small minority of Americans in our great nation,” French said. “The strength of our country and our Army has always been and will remain our diversity.”
    French enlisted in the Army in 2003 as a human resources specialist and received initial training at Fort Jackson, S.C. Her duty stations have included Fort Wainwright, Alaska; and Fort Riley, Kan.
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