Marine Corps Memorial. Photo taken Memorial Day weekend 2011. (R. Milla)
Today we celebrate the men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces, past and present.
As the son of a U.S. Marine, I have a special appreciation for the sacrifices
made by those who serve our country in the military. Over the years, my
father has shared with me several stories of the dangers, struggles, and
adversity he faced in the Marine Corps. However, for each of those stories,
there are two more stories that capture the camaraderie and brotherhood
among he and his fellow marines that emboldened him to run toward danger,
face any struggle, and overcome all adversity. Thanks to the bonds between
he and his brethren, they created a stronger Corps at large. That tradition
continues to this day, among all the military branches, despite the diverse
backgrounds of the men and women that comprise those institutions.
One of the many aspects of my father's stories that has always interested
me was hearing about the men he encountered during his time in the Corps,
from boot camp at Parris Island to Camp Lejeune to Camp Pendleton to Okinawa
to Da Nang to honorable discharge. Among them, the athletic Irish kid
Kenny from Queens, a helicopter gunner killed in action who never had
a chance to see his son; Victor, the tough SOB Puerto Rican from the Bronx
he met in the 3rd Marine Division who always had my father's back, including when they
chose each other as best man at their weddings; Sergeant Hollier, a French
Creole from Louisiana, built like a "brick shithouse" who made
them run for endless miles, and instilled in his men the unconditional
creed that you never leave a Marine behind, dead or alive. The guys with
whom he suffered through boot camp, traversed the world, dug trenches,
and yes, fought, were young men from all parts of the United States and
of varied backgrounds, from Native American to African American to well,
maybe not American. That is, not American on paper perhaps, but certainly
American at heart and most importantly, in action.
For over two centuries, this country has benefited from the protective
and watchful eyes of our U.S. Armed Forces men and women, born citizens
and immigrants alike. As of February 2008, according to data from the
Department of Defense, more than 65,000 immigrants (non-U.S. citizens
and naturalized citizens) were serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed
Forces. While the statistics are from 2008*, they are certainly relevant
today. And there is historical precedence to immigrants serving in our
military. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),
foreign-born individuals composed half of all military recruits by the
1840s and 20% of the 1.5 million service members in the Union Army during
the Civil War. Since September 2001, USCIS has naturalized more than 37,250
foreign-born members of the U.S. Armed Forces and granted posthumous citizenship
to 111 service members.
Some additional statistics further illustrate the vital role of immigrants
in our U.S. military. As a Filipino American, I am proud to note that
according to those same 2008 Department of Defense statistics*, the top
two countries of origin for foreign-born military personnel were the Philippines
(22.8% of foreign born) and Mexico (9.5%). Latin America and the Caribbean
constituted the largest percentage of the foreign born, with Asia a close
third. Nearly 11% of those serving in the armed forces were designated
as being of "Hispanic" origin. Of all military branches, the
Navy had the highest number of foreign-born personnel at 8%. Never to
be outdone by the men, over 11,000 foreign-born women were serving in
the armed forces as of February 2008.
There is much to be said of the sacrifices of those who enter the military,
irrespective if those individuals were born in this country. Today we
all of our veterans, regardless of background, who have served and continue
to serve with valor. Today, I will let the statistics of foreign-born
soldiers speak for themselves. Despite individuals' political slants
and views on immigration reform, there is no denying the collective contributions
of immigrants to our U.S. military and in turn, to the United States.
Today of all days, they deserve our respect and gratitude.
Thank you to all of our veterans, active military personnel, and their families.
*Data provided by the
Migration Policy Institute.