In the spring of 1945, 2nd Lt. Daniel Inouye led his platoon on an assault of a heavily-defended, German-held ridge known as the Gothic Line near the village of San Terenzo, Italy. As he and his men stormed an enemy emplacement, he was shot in the torso, but continued to fight. He took out multiple German machine positions in close combat, however, while attempting to attack a third machine gun nest, Daniel was hit with a rifle-fired grenade that destroyed his right arm.
Evacuated to a field hospital, Daniel underwent multiple surgeries and blood transfusions over the next two weeks before doctors had to amputate his arm. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Daniel was a member of the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. His regiment was the most highly decorated unit of its size in U.S. military history. While many of those in this unit were serving and sacrificing on foreign soil, their families back home in the States were interned in prison camps.
“Rarely has a nation been so well served by a people it has so ill-treated,” said President Bill Clinton on June 21, 2000 during a special ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House honoring the soldiers of the 442nd. “They risked their lives, above and beyond the call of duty. And in so doing, they did more than defend America; in the face of painful prejudice, they helped it to define America at its best.”
“We had an extra burden because it was not only serving our nation in uniform, but also proving and demonstrating a loyalty,” said Daniel, who would serve as U.S. Senator from Hawaii for nearly 50 years. “I’m glad to say my country has said we did.”
Each May, since 1992, the United States observes Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This commemoration not only honors the contributions made by those of Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry, but celebrates how their unique and diverse cultures have strengthened the fabric of America.
”I think it is important that we as Americans take time to reflect on our unique backgrounds and how we all contribute to a strong American tapestry,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim Tran, a first-generation Vietnamese American who is currently a volunteer with the USS Midway Museum’s education department. “There is no singular Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage, but rather we all have different and valuable cultures that help define our identity.”
People with Asian lineage have served in or supported the American military dating back to the Continental Army during Revolutionary War. It was only in 1948, after World War II, that desegregation ended in the military allowing for a fully integrated armed forces.
“It’s important that our military reflects the great diversity of the American people,” said Tim, who was born in Anaheim and is a graduate of the University of Southern California. “The U.S. military and the Navy in particular serve as ambassadors of our country to the rest of the world. Many other countries are much more homogenous and are surprised when they see American servicemembers of all different backgrounds, colors, religions, orientations, and origins able to work together as a team.”
For Juanito Del Rosario, whose nickname is Del, his American-dream journey started in San Jose City, Philippines shortly after World War II. Born into a poor family, he was able to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1968 through a special military program. All foreign nationals, however, were barred from jobs that required access to classified information. For Filipino sailors like Del, they worked exclusively as food-service stewards in galleys and wardrooms on ships and at naval bases.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s that the policy changed allowing Del to become an electrician’s mate. From there, his career took off rising through the ranks to chief petty officer and ultimately receiving his commission in 1983 as one of the Navy’s first Asian engineering duty officer.
“We are the minorities in this organization,” said Del, who served 38 years on active duty and in the Naval Reserves. “Despite being minorities, we can also do, perform and contribute something for the welfare, improvement and success of the military.”
A docent on Midway since 2018 with more than 2,400 volunteer hours, Del is proud that each year his adopted country salutes the contributions of all Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, whether or not they have served in the military.
“History is replete with evidence that Asian Americans have played important and vital roles in shaping our nation from participating and fighting in multiple wars and helping build our country’s infrastructure, to introducing and sharing our cultures,” said Del, who became a U.S. citizen in 1974 and spent 25 years as an electrical and design engineer with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. “Having this is a reminder that we, Asian Americans with an inherent link to our ethnic heritage, are important contributors to our society. Our good cultures blend with the nation’s other cultures for the better.”