DAHLGREN, Va. - Matthew Swartz recounted the day his
brother signed up at the Virginia Army National Guard unit in Fredericksburg,
Va., shortly after 9/11.
“He was out of the Army for 10 years and just had his
second daughter, less than a year old,” said Swartz. “He had a very stable job
as a police officer, and his first daughter was about to graduate from high
Swartz – the Executive Director and Command Information
Officer for U.S. Fleet Cyber Command – was speaking to his audience at the Naval
Support Facility Dahlgren base theater about the 2016 Asian American and
Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month’s national theme: "Walk Together,
Embrace Differences, Build Legacies."
“You can imagine the conversation in his household with
his wife when he told her that he was departing for Iraq in less than a month -
after making that decision without talking to her,” said Swartz.
“Who would do that,” he questioned, as military members,
government civilians, and defense contractors listened to the keynote speaker
at the May 24 Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD)-sponsored
“I think a lot of the culture and attributes that my
mother instilled in him in terms of hard work,” explains who would do that,
said Swartz. “They trained you to do a job, you’re expected to do the job, and
you’re expected to do the best you can.”
Moreover, Swartz recalled the day his brother deployed as
a member of the 29th Infantry Division out of Mary Washington College with a
combat badge on his shoulder. “None of the 29ers had it,” said Swartz who
quoted his brother’s comment: “There’s not a single guy there wearing a CIB (combat
infantry badge). How can I be from this town with this training and let that
unit go forward without me?”
Swartz considered the story as an example of “walking
together” – the first component of an AAPI Heritage Month theme that defined
the struggles Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders faced and overcame in a
process that was not always favorable.
“I take a lot of pride in what he’s contributed and
provided,” said Swartz. “It’s one reason that I continue to do what I do in the
Navy as a civilian. It’s the sense of commitment and I think that’s why we are
all here. It’s because we are committed to the mission. We are committed to
what we do every day and we want to do it the best we can, whether we are
wearing a uniform or whether we are wearing a suit. And you have to embrace
those differences. I think those differences are what inspired him to do what
This year's three imperatives – walk together, embrace
differences, and build legacies – serve to promote equal representation and to
remove barriers in developing diverse leaders, acknowledging the challenges
that still exist today.
“It’s an exciting time for me to celebrate our heritage
and talk to you about the contributions of the (AAPI) members that are part of
our Navy team today, but also those who came before us, recognizing the
contributions that they provided,” said Swartz. “This is an opportunity for me.
I am of Japanese heritage. My mother was first generation Japanese. She married
an American GI during the Vietnam War while he was stationed in Japan, and
eventually found herself coming to the United States.”
Swartz reminisced about growing up on the Dahlgren naval
base while his father worked as a government employee. The stories clearly
credit his mother and her diversity with shaping him to be who he is today.
“If you walk together, embrace differences, embrace each
other, and take what you have from each other to do the best that you can as a
collective unit – you will build a legacy,” said Swartz. “You don’t have to try
to build it. I take a lot of pride in my family legacy. We have a pretty robust
military background, military heritage, and commitment to service. That’s a
legacy that we built as a family. If you can find a legacy that you will take
pride in or that you’re going to own, I think you will achieve that, and you’re
going to get an inspiration in that.”
Swartz managed to simultaneously work full-time in a
factory and part-time at a bank holding company while drilling as an active Army
reservist and attending Mary Washington College where he earned his bachelor’s
degree. He went on to earn master of science degrees from the University of
Virginia and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces National Defense
“I think the traits of hard work and dedication will enable
you to find out your path and help provide the things you need,” said the cyber
command senior executive. “So that’s walking together - what you need to do.”
He mentioned another personal example of walking
“In those journeys I used to take with her, I learned
from her differences to the point where I finally got comfortable with our
differences and started to embrace them,” said Swartz about long walks he would
have with his mother and his differences as an American with Japanese ethnicity.
“I no longer tried to hide them, which was interesting.”
Swartz and NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Brian Durant
reviewed examples of Asian American and Pacific Islander lives and legacies
that are bigger than the individual legacy.
“I want to pay homage to the folks who came before us.
It’s important to understand who paved the way for us,” said Swartz, recalling
legacies of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, including Florence Smith
Finch, Col. Young-Oak Kim, and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
Florence Smith Finch, the daughter of an
American soldier and a Filipino mother, who was working for the U.S. Army
during World War II when the Japanese occupied the Philippines. Claiming
Filipino citizenship, she avoided being imprisoned with other enemy nationals at
Santo Tomas Internment. She joined the underground resistance movement and
smuggled food, medicine, and supplies to American captives. Eventually, she was
arrested by the Japanese, tortured, and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
After serving five months of her sentence, Finch was liberated by American
forces. Returning to the United States aboard a Coast Guard transport, she
headed for Buffalo, New York, her father's hometown. She then enlisted in the
Coast Guard to “avenge the death of her late husband,” a Navy PT boat crewman
killed at Corregidor. Seaman First Class Finch was the first U.S Coast Guard
Women's Reserve member to receive the Asian-Pacific Campaign ribbon in
recognition of her service in the Philippines. At the end of the war, she was awarded
the civilian U.S. Medal of Freedom.
Young-Oak Kim. In 1951, Kim was the First Asian-American to lead a combat
battalion in a war. Kim is also the only Korean-American to be awarded the
Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at the Battle of Anzio during World
War II. Kim, having reenlisted and promoted to major, became the first ethnic
minority to command a regular combat battalion, the first of the 31st Infantry.
When then-2nd Lt. Young Oak Kim reported for duty at Camp Shelby, Miss., in February
1943, the commander of the 100th Battalion (Separate), Lt. Col. Farrant Turner,
offered him an immediate transfer because "Koreans and Japanese don't
always get along." Kim refused on the spot: "You're wrong. They're
Americans, I'm American, and we're going to fight for America." The young
Korean-American lieutenant was being both patriotic and pragmatic. Born in 1919
in downtown Los Angeles; amid Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, and Jewish
immigrants, Kim knew his opportunities for advancement would be limited in a
"white man's army." "If I wasn't with the 100th," Kim
recalled many years later, "I would be a PR [Public Relations] officer or
have some insignificant duty someplace else, because nobody was going to let
me, as an Asian, command regular troops."
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. In 2000, he was the
first Japanese-American and only second recipient to receive both the Medal of
Freedom and the Medal of Honor. Inouye is also the first Japanese-American to
serve in Congress. On Dec. 7, 1941, the fateful day of the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor, 17-year-old Inouye was one of the first Americans to handle
civilian casualties in the Pacific war. During World War II, Inouye served in
the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Composed of Soldiers of Japanese
ancestry, the 442nd became one of the most decorated military units in U.S.
history. For his combat heroism, which cost him his right arm, Inouye was
awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star,
and the Purple Heart with Cluster. He practiced law in Hawaii before entering
territorial politics in 1954. When Hawaii became the 50th state, Inouye was one
of its first representatives in the U.S. Congress. He won an election to the
U.S. Senate in 1962. Inouye served as the Senate's president pro tempore from
2010 until his death in 2012. In 2013, Inouye was posthumously awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom, becoming the first senator to receive both the
Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Honor.
“Asian American and Pacific Islanders have been serving
honorably in the United States Military since the War of 1812,” said Durant. “The
first Asian American Pacific Islander to reach general officer rank was Brig.
Gen. Albert Lyman, who was ethnic Hawaiian. He was the commanding general of
the 32nd Army Division that fought in the Leyte campaigns in the Philippines in
World War II. The highest ranked Asian American Pacific Islander in the
military was Eric Shinseki, recently former four-star general and Army chief of
Durant also recalled legacies of Asian American and
Pacific Islanders Susan Ahn Cuddy, Major Kurt Chew-Een, and Rear Adm. (Gordon
Susan Ahn Cuddy joined the Navy in 1942
after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. She was the first Asian-American woman to join
the U.S. Navy and became the first female to operate flexible-mount or
turret-mounted machine guns on an aircraft in the Navy. She left the Navy in
1946 at the rank of Lieutenant. Even in her elder years, Susan remained active,
speaking at Navy functions and Korean American community events. She died at
her home June 24, 2015 at aged 100 in Northridge, California.
Maj. Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the first Marine
officer of Chinese descent, broke barriers of segregation upon his 1944 Marine
Corps enlistment, retiring as a Major in 1968. Lee earned the Navy Cross under
fire in Korea in September 1950. He passed away in 2014. He remains a prominent
symbol for AAPI Heritage Month and Lee is recognized alongside all
Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders within the Marine Corps.
Rear Adm. (Gordon Paiʻea) Chung-Hoon served
during World War II and became the U.S. Navy’s first Asian American flag
officer. He attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1934, after
becoming the first Asian American, U.S. citizen to graduate from the academy.
He is a recipient of the Navy Cross and Silver Star for extraordinary heroism
as commanding officer of USS Sigsbee from May 1944 to October 1945. He served
25 years in the U.S. Navy and retired as an admiral. He died July 24, 1979 at