News: 20th Support Command (CBRNE) hosts APG-wide Asian Pacific American Heritage Celebration
Story by Jessica Maxwell
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Opening with an energetic hula dance, Aberdeen Proving Ground kicked off the 2012 Asian Pacific American Heritage celebration.
The dancers from the Tepua Hio Hio Polynesian Entertainment group explained the significance and history behind the hula dances, as well as the other dances performed, including a Maori dance with poi balls. During the Maori dance, several soldiers were given the chance to try their hand with the poi balls.
“It was very challenging. It’s more than just twisting your wrist and rotating balls on a string – there’s a lot of coordination that goes with it. [The dancers] are definitely very skilled at their trade,” said one of the volunteers, Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Cole, 20th Spt. Cmd. (CBRNE) Equal Opportunity Advisory, and one of the key organizers of the event.
The guest speaker, Terry Shima, executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association, spoke about his experiences with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and how this unit played a role in breaking down discrimination. Comprised of Japanese Americans, the infantry unit fought in Germany and Italy during World War II and became the most decorated unit, known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.” For their service in World War II, there are 21 Medal of Honor recipients, 5,000 Purple Hearts, 33 Distinguished Service Crosses and 560 Silver Stars.
Although more than 5,000 Japanese Americans served in the military prior to the war, many were discharged, based on false beliefs of disloyalty to America and sent to internment camps. Despite this, Japanese Americans asked to serve and because of the military’s need for combat troops, the War Department activated the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. More than 4,000 volunteers from Hawaii and the internment camps served to prove their loyalty.
“The government had given up on them but they did not give up their faith in America,” Shima said.
Upon their return to America, President Truman welcomed them home and applauded their efforts abroad. Shima said this was the beginning of the government’s effort to reverse discrimination.
“Japanese Americans and the Tuskegee Airmen settled the question of loyalty once and for all,” Shima said.
Shima continued by noting the contributions of Japanese Americans in the military, listing some of the ranks and positions held by these Americans, as well as the repeal of discriminatory laws. In closing, Shima said not only was this a Japanese American story, but also an American story.
“All of this speaks to the greatness of America -- a country which made a huge constitutional mistake, apologized for it at the highest level, made corrections and moved forward,” Shima said.
Sgt. 1st Class Cole and Master Sgt. William Craine, both with the 20th Spt. Cmd. (CBRNE) Equal Opportunity Office, planned the celebration and coordinated with the different agencies on Aberdeen Proving Ground to ensure no details slipped through the cracks. Cole said the planning of the event involved many people.
“When you’re not planning an observance, you don’t realize how much goes into,” Cole said. “You enjoy a presentation and move on, but when you have to sit down and coordinate every moving piece, there’s a lot to it. It takes months of planning, coordinating and follow-up with literally hundreds of people.”
After all of their planning and coordination, on the day of the event, Craine and Cole were able to see their months of hard work unfold. Both said they enjoyed the entertainment, as well as Shima’s speech.
“Mr. Shima brought a personal message to the educational piece of the observance,” Craine said.
Cole added that Shima’s speech also fit the theme perfectly – “Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion.”
Looking forward, Craine said he understands how difficult it can be for everyone to make time to go to observances such as the Asian Pacific American Heritage celebration but he stressed the importance of attending observances.
“We need to maintain the focus to ensure we acknowledge the many cultures and ethnic groups within the local area and within our command,” Craine said.
In his closing remarks, Brig. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, 20th Spt. Cmd. (CBRNE) commander thanked everyone for attending the event and extended special thanks to Shima and then Tepua Hio Hio Polynesian Entertainment group for their contributions to the event. Smith also noted the importance of celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, commenting that diversity plays a huge role in America.
“One of the biggest gifts we have in America is our diversity,” Smith said.
This work, 20th Support Command (CBRNE) hosts APG-wide Asian Pacific American Heritage Celebration, by Jessica Maxwell, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.