This is the last post in a three-part Memorial Day Weekend series honouring Asian American veterans.
General Eric Shinseki is a retired four-star General, who has served in the United States Army from 1965 – 2003, including tours in Europe and two tours served during the Vietnam War. While in Vietnam, Shinseki stepped on a land mine and lost part of his foot.
Upon returning to the U.S., Shinseki held a variety of command positions, ultimately being promoted to serve as the Army’s 28th Vice Chief of Staff in 1998. In 1999, Shinseki was again promoted, serving as the Army’s 34th Chief of Staff for four years before his retirement in 2003.
Why He’s Awesome?
General Shinseki holds the distinction of being the first Asian American to receive the rank of four-star general, and he is also the only Asian Ameican to ever serve as the Army Chief of Staff. He is the recipient of multiple military awards, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation’s highest peacetime award.
While Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki made national headlines when he publicly disagreed with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee over how many troops would be necessary to re-build Iraq after the Iraq War. Shinseki estimated that several hundred thousand troops would be needed, in contrast to the much lower estimates made by Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Although heavily criticized by the Bush White House at the time, Shinseki’s testimony has since proven to be accurate.
This post is the second of a three part series on awesome Asian veterans, written in commemoration of Memorial Day.
Tammy Duckworth joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Guard in 1990 while a graduate student in George Washington University, following in the footsteps of her father, who served in the military from World War II to Vietnam. In 1992, Duckworth joined the United States Army Reserve and trained to be a combat helicopter pilot, because it was one of the few combat jobs open to women. In 2004, Duckworth was serving with the Illinois National Guard in Iraq when the helicopter she was co-piloting was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. Though Duckworth survived the subsequent explosion, she lost the lower parts of both legs.
Why She’s Awesome?
Returning to America, Duckworth received a Purple Heart, an Air Medal and an Army Commendation Medal. Following her experiences in Iraq, Duckworth also formed the Intrepid Foundation, which supports and advocates on behalf of injured veterans. Indeed, since returning from Iraq, Duckworth spent much of her time working to improve veteran care, speaking openly in criticism of the Bush Administration’s mishandling of this issue.
In 2006, Duckworth ran for, and won, the Democratic primary for Illinois’ 6th Congressional seat, despite having never before held an elected office. Unfortunately, later that year, Duckworth lost the seat to Republican challenger, Peter Roskam, by only 2% of the vote.
After losing the election in November 2006, Duckworth was appointed Director of Illinois’ Veteran Affairs, and in 2009, President Obama nominated Duckworth to the position of Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veteran Affairs, a position she currently serves in the Obama Administration.
For Memorial Day Weekend, I’m writing three posts that will profile three awesome Asian American servicemen and veterans of the United States Armed Services. Today’s spotlight: Lt. Dan Choi.
Lt. Dan Choi, at the National Equality March in 2009
Lt. Dan Choi is a former infantry officer who served in the United States Army for ten years, including two years in Iraq between 2006 and 2007. A graduate from the prestigious West Point Academy, Choi is a Arabic language specialist. In 2009, after a decade of service in the U.S. Army, Choi transferred to the New York National Guard.
Why He’s Awesome?
In March 2009, Choi appeared on The Rachel Maddow show, where he uttered three little words on-air: “I am gay”.
Because the act of disclosing your homosexality is a violation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which was implemented by the Clinton Administration, Lt. Dan Choi received a letter of dismissal from the New York National Guard. Choi fought the decision, and faced a military trial that ultimately again recommended Choi for dismissal for being gay. However, discharge procedures were never finalized, and Choi continues to serve in the New York National Guard to this day.
Meanwhile, Choi has become one of the most prominent critics of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, a policy that forbids “homosexual conduct” in active servicemen and that disproportionately affects women and minority officers. He has repeatedly urged the Obama Administration to repeal DADT, and he founded “KnightsOut” an advocacy group for LGBT memebers of West Point. Choi was arrestedtwicethis year for chaining himself to the White House fence in order to raise awareness about DADT’s negative effects on gay military personnel.
For their vocal and ardent activism regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Choi and all the other LGBT APIA servicemen who have taken a brave public stand against DADT definitely deserve recognition this Memorial Day Weekend.
It’s almost the end of May. Do you know your Asian-American history?
Most of America isn’t aware that May is Asian-American Heritage Month. It’s a celebration that started in 1978, when Congress urged President Jimmy Carter to declare the week of May 4th ”Asian-American Heritage Week.” (That date was chosen to coincide with the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843, and with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad — built largely by Chinese laborers — on May 10, 1869.) More recently in 1990, following another vote by Congress, President George H.W. Bush expanded Asian-American Heritage Week to encompass the entire month of May.
Sadly, Asian-American history and heritage is rarely taught in U.S. public schools. So for those of you who’ve missed such curriculum, here’s a list of 10 factoids you may not have known about the history of Asian-Americans in this country: