Asian American Soldier

Jonathan Vo

Daneen Bergland

Pop Culture

May 25, 2015

Asian American Soldier

I recently celebrated my 20th birthday. I have been walking around for two decades now and I feel that I haven’t been able to walk around and not be reminded of my heritage. My parents are both immigrants from Vietnam .They both immigrated to the United States due to the conflict occurring in Vietnam. My father once told me something when I was little that I never understood until recently, “No matter what you do, they will always look at you differently.” I argued with my dad and just assumed it was some old idea he had. I never understood what I meant up until I left for Basic Training. I can say that not a single day passed where I wasn’t remind that I was Asian. It was either through jokes or racial remarks but the fact that I was Asian was always mentioned. I personally have not felt any real form of actual racism and do feel comfortable while working and I do feel that I fell right where it would like to be an average soldier. I believe that in today’s culture, being an Asian American Soldier makes you different than the rest. Some people that proved to be the different people in today’s Army is Viet Luong, Eric Shinseki, and Danny Chen. Captain America: The First Avenger and We Were Soldiers both represent Asian Americans soldiers in different ways for the times they are set in.

Brigadier General Viet Luong is, what I feel, as the most influential person in my military career right now.  He is the first Vietnamese American to become a general in the U.S. Army. Luong’s life is something that resembles to what my parents went through. He emigrated from South Vietnam to the United States and went to school to become an officer. His service resembles any other soldiers and he was able to work his way to through the ranks. It isn’t uncommon to have Vietnamese officers in the U.S. Army but it is very exception to have one finally pinned General in 2014. Luong makes an extra ordinary and motivational example of what an Asian American Soldier can achieve. General Viet Luong described to NBC affiliate KXAN that he was “a symbol of democracy, of freedom, of justice of our constitution.” Like many who serve, he feels that their achievement is only possible due to the opportunities the United States has given them. In August when Viet Luong was pinned General, the news was huge for the Vietnamese population in the United States. It was a huge mile stone for the Vietnamese Americans in the country and was reported on media networks like the Army Times, NPR, We are the Mighty and other channels of news. The main reason why I chose to use General Viet Luong was because of how rare he is in the Army. Many others who receive the honor to become Generals don’t receive as much coverage and due to who he is and where he is from, the media portrays him as something different.

Eric Shinseki is an Asian American Soldier who has had the media’s attention for quite a few years. Shinseki was the first Asian American to become a four star general and also serve as the Secretary of Veteran Affairs. The most recent attention that Shinseki has been receiving is of a scandal regarding the delayed of care for veterans and also his resignation from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Before any of this, General Shinseki was the highest ranking Japanese American to serve in the United States armed forces. He served during the Vietnam War and has commanded units all over the world. The media currently has Shinseki in a rough spot. This scandal has many veterans dying without aid due to the VA being so delayed. The improvement of the VA is having a bright future but without Shinseki. Shinseki served honorably and was caught up with a scandal that he left in hopes that someone else would fix. The media seems to have put a bad name down for Shinseki and his resignation has left an unclear future for Asian Americans to hold position in Government.

Private Danny Chen was found dead at his post in the Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The Army concluded that his dead had occurred due to a self-inflicted wound. This is a very extreme example of racism in the U.S. Army.  It was discovered that Chen was targeted with ethnic slurs and physical attacks by those he called battle buddies. He was the only Chinese American in his unit at the time and constantly abused for six weeks. All of those who attacked him were soldiers above him who were supposed to take care of him. Danny Chen is also an example of a story that was heard. After Chen’s death, the media really picked up on who he was and what led up to his death and what happen to those who hurt him. The New York Magazine wrote an in depth article on Danny’s life before he enlisted and described how his mother took the news that he had died. The New York Times wrote an article on how the Army charged eight for the death of their fellow soldier. Chen’s death was so wide spread in his home town of New York, Elizabeth Street in China Town, Manhattan, is now Private Danny Chen Way. The mistreatment of Pvt. Chen made huge headlines and gave new light on how some soldiers are being treated in today’s Army.

Films have yet to really go in depth on the experiences of Asian American soldiers who serve or have served. Captain America: The First Avenger has a scene that sums up the experience of many American Soldiers. Captain America swoops in and saves many American prisoners from the Germans. The Captain opens up the cages and one of the character asks if “We taking everyone?” as he looks down at Jim Morita. Morita responds with “I’m from Fresno” as he holds out his dog tags. Morita is as Asian American soldier and due to his appearance, many would not assume he was a soldier or for the timer period, an American. We were soldiers was a film where the United States was pitted against the Viet Cong. Jimmy Nakayama was a Japanese American who died due to friendly fire. The movie went very in depth in how who the Viet Cong were and how they were people fighting as well. What stood out the most was how they portrayed Nakayama. When the reporter ran into Nakayama, he treated him as if he was another other soldier. As Nakayama was carried out, he yelled to the reporter to tell his family that he loved them showing that everyone was the same during this time of war.

In today’s popular culture, the Asian American soldier rarely sees the headlines. Films are generally not created to emphasize on Asian American soldiers. The first thought of a soldier to the general public is never an Asian. Many Asian Americans though, have been able to achieve in today’s Army.  Many are able to do great things, receive very prestigious honors, and rise through the ranks to make history. Films have been able to show how most perceive Asian soldiers through either recognizing their ethnicity or seeing them as everyone else, a soldier. General Viet Luong and General Shinseki have created a foothold in today’s media showing the role of Asian Americans in service. Danny Chen was able to give insight on how some are treated and what needs to be done to change the divide. The film industry has been able to show how soldiers have been treated. Popular culture has been able to show how some have broken through barrels to rise above others. I hope that one day that these achievement can be placed aside so that an Asian American soldier can become an American Soldier.




Work Cite

  1. Bowman, Tom. “The Frightened Vietnamese Kid Who Became A U.S. Army General.” NPR. NPR, 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 25 May 2015.
  2. Bronstein, Scott. “Hospital Delays Are Killing America’s War Veterans –” CNN. Cable News Network, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 May 2015.
  3. Cohen, Tom. “Shinseki Resigns, but Will That Improve Things at VA Hospitals? –” CNN. Cable News Network, 31 May 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.
  4. We Were Soldiers. Paramount, 2002. Film.
  5. Ghandi, Lakshmi. “U.S. Military Promotes First Vietnamese-American General – NBC News.” NBC News. 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 25 May 2015.
  6. Gonnerman, Jennifer. “Pvt. Danny Chen, 1992–” 6 Jan. 2012. Web. 25 May 2015.
  7. Nye, David. “This US Army General Was Rescued from Vietnam as a Young Boy.” We Are The Mighty. 5 May 2015. Web. 23 May 2015.
  8. Captain America. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2011. Film.
  9. Semple, Kirk. “Army Charges 8 in Wake of Death of a Fellow G.I.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 May 2015.