Remembering Asian and Pacific Islander Veterans: US Army Profiles

Asian Americans have had a long history with US Armed forces, as we have written about before. I grew up surrounded by Filipino American Navy Veterans and their families, and I lived the Navy Brat lifestyle. When looking for stories about veterans, I found this profile on prominent and historic Asian and American and Pacific Islander Army veterans.  It is notable for acknowledging the long history of Asian American veterans and for having one particularly notable omission.

A description of Senator Daniel Inouye was not surprising – I definitely expected someone from the 442nd regiment to be included.  Also not surprising was the inclusion of Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq War.  I didn’t know about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

The picture above is of that Edward Day Cohota.  Born in China, he fought in the American Civil War.  That surprised me – I didn’t know that there were any Chinese Americans who fought in that war!  He went on to serve in the army for 30 years.  Cohota thought his long years of service would grant him citizenship, but he didn’t get his papers completed before the Chinese Exclusion Act and never became a citizen, a story echoed today of what has happened with some current immigrants in the military.

Conspicuously missing was any mention of Major General Antonio Taguba.  Taguba, as you may recall, was responsible during the Iraq War for compiling a report on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison which was leaked in 2004.  He was asked to retire in 2007.  Lou Sing Kee, a WWI War hero, was not listed. I also learned that he was even mentioned (as Sing Kee) in a Stevie Wonder song called Black Man.

Despite a few omissions, I still think it is a list worth reading (see the other Chinese American who fought in the Civil War).  For other Asian American veteran stories, I suggest checking out Koji Sakai‘s graphic novel 442StoryCorp’s Military Voices project has many moving Veteran stories, such as this one that we that highlighted on a Memorial Day and this one on a past veteran’s day.

Remembering Asian American Veterans: Stories from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project

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“I could not believe I was coming home to the same reception I received twenty-three years before, following World War II. This time I was not the enemy, but I was there saving lives, perhaps their loved ones.”

Carolyn Hisako Tanaka was forced into an internment camp when she was six.  When she returned from serving in the Vietnam War as a nurse, her homecoming was incredibly similar.  Carolyn’s story and that of other Asian Americans are recorded in the Library of Congress (LOC) Veterans History Project.   Asian Americans veterans have a long history, with some even serving on both sides of the Civil War, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross in World War I, and of course as part of the 442nd.  Some of more notable stories and materials are referred to in this special section on Asian American Veterans, and it is possible to search for materials in their collection by ethnicity – you can search by Asian or separately by Pacific Islander.

Carolyn Tanaka wrote her memoirs, a book called Road Runner, and donated a copy to the LOC.   The Veteran’s History Project is primarily an oral history collection, but other materials like memoirs, photo collections, and letters have been accepted.  Instructions on what they are looking for as well how to contribute if you know or are a veteran are available.  I am thinking about making contributions about my father, who was a U.S. Navy Veteran who saw action in the Cuban Missile Blockade and the Vietnam War.

Remembering Asian American Veterans: Lou Sing Kee, World War I Hero

On U.S. Veteran’s Day, we should also remember Asian American veterans, whose long history of valor may not be known to many. When I first saw this picture in the San Jose Mercury News, I wondered, “who is this kid (Charles Lee) is portraying and what did he do?” He is portraying Lou Sing Kee (official registered as Sing Kee), a World War I awardee of the Distinguished Service Cross.

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