Asian-Pacific Americans
It has been a long road to acceptance and recognition even though their accomplishments reflect an All-American loyalty and pride

By Karen Kovach

     During the 95th Congress, Representatives Norman Y. Mineta of California and Frank Horton of New York along with Senators Spark Matsunaga and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii introduced House and Senate resolutions for the President to authorize Asian-Pacific American Heritage Week. President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation, designating seven days in May to recognize the contributions and achievements of Americans of Asian/Pacific ancestry. President George Bush later extended celebration to the month of May.

     The term, Asian-Pacific American, applies to a varied ethnic group which includes Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Pacific Islanders, among others. Each of the nationalities included in the Asian-Pacific American "pool" has a distinct cultural heritage. The values of the individual members of this group come from their specific heritage and their cultural diversity enriches American society.

     The history of Asian-Pacific Americans began with the first recorded settlement of Filipinos in New Orleans in 1763. Peoples of non-European origin commonly faced prejudice and legislated discrimination over the years.

     Public panic after the attack on Pearl Harbor caused the government to react with a number of anti-Asian American policies. Among these policies was an order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt: Executive Order [E.O.] 9066 sentenced all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast to "internment camps" for the duration of the war. The families of 112,000 Americans were interned in camps; many lost almost everything they owned.

     Today, an estimated 10 million Americans trace their ancestry to Asia or the Pacific Islands. Asian-Pacific Americans have contributed significantly to America’s national goals and have demonstrated unfaltering loyalty to the country which belongs to all of us.

     Asian-Pacific Americans are notably represented in the Armed Forces. As of September 1995, there were 5,524 officers and 38,748 enlisted of Asian-Pacific ancestry serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. The military recently began to statistically identify and record the service of Asian-Pacific Americans as a separate group.

     The valor of Asian Pacific Americans fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces is evident. Filipino Nationalists assisted American Forces against the Spanish in Manila during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Unfortunately, after the War’s end, the Filipinos fought against American soldiers during the Philippine insurrection. Throughout the conflict the Army was materially supported by the Makabebe scouts, who remained loyal to the United States.

     Pvt. Jose B. Nisperos, a Philippine Scout, was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery against the enemy in 1911. Wounded, he continued to fight and repelled a band of insurgents, saving his party from annihilation. The Philippine Scouts continued to serve through World War II and were an essential part of the U. S. Army in the Philippines.

     The plight of Japanese- Americans during World War II is a well-known segment of American history. Although the attack on Pearl Harbor led to the internment of many Japanese -Americans, the war also gave the Nisei (second generation Americans) the opportunity to prove their loyalty. The Nisei, who were American citizens by birth, were seen by their parents as the future for the Japanese in America. Their parents sacrificed and invested heavily in the Nisei’s education and future. Most of the Nisei learned English, as well as Japanese, and assumed American habits. They pleaded for a place in the war—for the right to fight for their country. When the War Department finally agreed to put soldiers with Japanese roots into a special combat unit, the 442d Regimental Combat Team, almost 10,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii volunteered for military service.

     The 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated unit of its size; more than 18,000 individual decorations for valor were won by the soldiers of the 442d.

     On July 26, 1948 President Truman outlawed all discrimination in the Armed Forces, ending the practice of creating all ethnic units.

     During the war in the Pacific and after the Japanese surrender, Nisei interpreters and translators were the "eyes and ears" of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Nisei were assigned to the U.S. Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii, to every Army division, to paratroop units, and the Office of Strategic Service.

     One example of selfless service and loyalty to country is the story of Richard Sakakida. Sakakida was recruited in Hawaii by the Corps of Intelligence Police on March 13, 1941. He had been selected to be a Nisei agent with a special assignment in the Philippines. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan were worsening and Sakakida was to report on Japanese nationals living in Manila. His cover story was that he had left Hawaii to avoid the draft.

     Sakakida adeptly worked his way into the highest echelons of the Japanese community and was soon providing valuable intelligence. The military situation in the Philippines deteriorated rapidly. On Dec. 23, 1941, Sakakida was evacuated from Manila to the peninsula of Bataan and eventually ordered to Corregidor. With the fall of Bataan on April 8, 1942, and the anticipated loss of Corregidor, Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters sent orders to evacuate the island.

     Sakakida gave up his seat on the plane to another agent and was taken prisoner. Nine months of imprisonment and torture could not break his story that he was an American draft dodger who had been forced to work for the U. S. Army as an interpreter. He was eventually released to work in the Judge Advocate’s Office, where he became an undercover agent, passing intelligence reports to McArthur’s headquarters. One such report concerned the assembly of a Japanese Force at Davao in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Fifteen Japanese troop transports and destroyers were believed to have headed south for the front lines. Whether acting on Sakakida’s report alone or with other information, U.S. submarines were awaiting the convoy and sunk all but one Japanese ship. Eventually, sensing increased suspicion and hostility toward him, Sakakida escaped to the mountains where he joined a guerrilla band.

     Richard Sakakida was inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in 1988.

     Following World War II, Asian-Pacific Americans were integrated into the Armed Forces and served in Korea and Vietnam. Political unrest in South Korea and the Philippines, and the fall of Saigon, increased immigration to the U.S. from these countries, as well as from throughout Southeast Asia.

     Karen Kovach is a writer-editor in the INSCOM Military History Office, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir, Va.

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   Last Updated: July 02, 1997