Happy Veterans Day: honoring all who serve

USMC Memorial Front

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.

US soldier

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.

Soldier Child HandThere 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 acknowledge 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.