Written by CAPA-JRC reporter Hongjin Fang
Veterans Day is an annual national holiday celebrated on November 11th for honoring the American military veterans who risked their lives to make the US and the world a better place. People usually assume that the US military veterans consist of only white and a scarce amount of black individuals due to America’s dark racist history. However, Asian Americans have been serving honorably in the United States Military since the birth of America.
The first official recorded history of Asian Americans fighting on behalf of the U.S. occurred in 1815 in the War of 1812. General Andrew Jackson recorded that at least one “Manilamen”(Filipino sailors and indentured servants who escaped the Spanish Galleons in the 1700s) fought under his command in the battle of New Orleans.
Later during the Civil War, Asian Americans served on both sides of the war. These Asian Americans consisted mostly of Chinese Americans who were adopted by sailors and brought to the US. Of those who served, only a handful received recognition for their service in the form of pension, benefits, or citizenship. One remarkable soldier was William Ah Hang, a Chinese American, who became one of the first Asian Americans to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1863. He obtained his citizenship in 1866, however, was illegally canceled shortly after. Hang attempted to reapply for citizenship, but unfortunately, in 1872, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, prohibiting Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens before Hang could reobtain his citizenship.
In April 1917, the U.S. entered WWI on the side of the Allies. Within the U.S, a draft was started, and Asian Americans enrolled alongside Hispanics and African Americans as “nonwhite” troops. However, the majority of Asian Americans did not see combat.
23 years later, the U.S. entered the most gruesome war of humankind, WWII. Luckily, Asian American participation in the military increased dramatically. Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and even Japanese Americans fought in the war on behalf of the United States. It has been estimated that 20,000 Chinese American men, representing up to 22 percent of the men in our portion of the U.S. population, served during World War II. Every Asian American
soldier contributed their own part to the war effort. Most Chinese American soldiers fought in unsegregated units along with the white Americans due to the alliance of China and America at the time. Filipino Americans also fought on the front lines since the start of the war, in the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments. “The Fighting Filipinos” propaganda was distributed throughout the country to depict the undeniably significant force of Filipinos that fought the war with bravery. The legendary Arthur William Wermuth, Jr., a white American, dubbed the "One-Man Army of Bataan," fought in a Filipino Infantry located in the Philippines, nicknamed “The Filipino Scouts”, when he first joined the war. Another group of Asian Americans that had a great impact in the war were the Japanese Americans. Despite being discriminated against and confined for their ancestry, approximately 33,000 Japanese Americans fought in segregated
units of the U.S. military during WWII. The Japanese infantry regiments suffered heavy casualties and were almost considered a promising death for their soldiers.
Although Asian American veterans have always been placed in the shades of the United States military history, Asian Americans have made undeniable contributions in the US military. Fast forward to the modern-day, there are over 60,000 Asian Americans in the U.S. military making up 4.3 percent of the active duty service members. This is comparable to the Asian American percentage of the entire U.S. population(5.9 percent). We have been contributing to the US military as much as any other race in the country. As Asian Americans, it is important to pay respect to our veterans by celebrating this holiday and continue to share the stories of our Asian American veterans.
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 26 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.