Employees at the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month through an informative presentation May 16 in Philadelphia.
Keynote speaker Rob Buscher, a member of the board of the Japanese American Citizens League’s Philadelphia Chapter and the program director at Philadelphia’s Fleischer Art Memorial, shared historical vignettes from the more than 40 culturally unique populations that make up Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
Buscher said that unity, in spite of difference, has been a common thread that defines the diverse group.
“Over the [more than a] century that Asian Americans have lived in this country, there have been many cases in which our communities have been able to rise together by advocating on behalf of the shared goals that we all have,” Buscher said. “I think in many ways this is a model that we can learn from in our society as a whole.”
One story he shared was of the Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Teamthat were made up of large groups of Japanese Americans who volunteered to serve during World War II despite U.S. fear that they were loyal to Japan. Buscher described their heroism in support of fellow American soldiers.
“Combined, these groups had about 26,000 men who served in the armed forces,” Buscher said. “Which equates to about maybe a third of the total Japanese American population in the United States at that time period.”
During the war, their bravery and innovation saved a group of Texas-based soldiers pinned down by Nazi forces by providing food and water through enemy lines, packing supplies in mortar shells and firing them into the U.S. encampment before eventually rescuing the stranded troops, he said.
“The whole [Texas] battalion thought: ‘In just a matter of time, they are going to wipe us out … there’s no chance,’” Buscher said. “Yet the Japanese Americans went in on this - essentially a suicide mission - and rescued as many of them as they could.”
Buscher used the vignette to introduce two Japanese words he believes provide an understanding of what drove those men to heroism during the war, and the spirit of their shared culture.
According to Buscher, gaman (ga-mahn) means “to endure the unendurable with quiet dignity and perseverance,” and isshokenmei (eesh-oh-ken-may), means “to devote your entire soul and being to a singular purpose.”
The spirit of these words, he said, help describe how the Asian American and Pacific Islander people unite in times such as World War II, and during early 20th century issues surrounding Chinese immigration and labor laws.
DLA Troop Support Industrial Hardware Director Air Force Col. Adrian Crowley attended the event, and noted the approach to understanding Buscher took in his presentation.
“Mr. Buscher thoughtfully used the lens of history to provide perspective on the shaping events of the wide-ranging Asian American and Pacific Islander culture,” Crowley said. “It is always important to reflect on the diverse strength found within our organization, while also recognizing the core similarities beyond any group identification that truly unites our mission.”
In closing, Buscher shared one last story highlighting the accomplishments of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii – an original member of the 100th Battalion and the first Japanese American senator - to make a final point about enhancing unity through understanding.
“Take the time to listen to someone’s story,” Buscher said. “Get to know them as an individual, and we can all enrich each other together.”