Members of Moncrief Army Health Clinic dance during the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month observance at the Joe E. Mann Building May 12. (Photo by Reginald Rogers)

Fort Jackson hosts Asian American, Pacific Islander observance

By Reginald Rogers, Moncrief Public Affairs

Fort Jackson held its annual Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month Ceremony May 12, at the Joe E. Mann Center and the Pacific Island culture was well represented. 

The observance, which was presented by Moncrief Army Health Clinic, was themed: Advancing Leader through Collaboration. The event featured ceremonial dances and culinary treats that represented the Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures.

Fa'apepele (Pele) Hunkin, a local motivational speaker, and Sgt. Maj. Muriel A. MacDonald, Fort Jackson's AG Proponent sergeant major, served as guest speakers for the event, which attracted an audience of more than 100 community members.

Asian American and Pacific Islander communities consist of approximately 50 ethnic groups, speaking over 100 languages, with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries, Ellis explained.

Lt. Col Jason Dailey, MAHC’s deputy commander for Clinical Services delivered the opening remarks for the event, in place of MAHC Commander Col. Tara L. Hall, who was on temporary duty in the national capital region.

Dailey’s speech focused on the importance of accepting the various cultures and the unique experiences that are found within those cultures, that when combined, make up the fabric of America.

“Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have long played an essential role in writing the American story. From serving our country in uniform, having themes for civil rights, starting new business to winning Olympic medals, the contributions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders touched the lives of Americans everywhere,” Dailey said.

MacDonald spoke of how her grandfather was a survivor of what is now known as the Bataan Death March, in which 60,000 to 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war were forced to march nearly 70 miles by members of the Japanese Army, during World War II.

The march resulted in an estimated 5,000 to 18,000 Filipino deaths and between 500 to 650 American deaths.

“So my grandfather was forced on the march,” she explained. “He marched it with his three brothers and he was a prisoner of war for three years. He also lost one of his brothers and watched as he was beheaded in front of them.”

She explained that he never spoke of the tragic incident.

“I remember I got a scholarship for Outward Bound, when I was in high school. It was a 28-day backpack trip,” MacDonald explained. “I was so excited when I came back home and I was telling my grandfather of all the stuff that I did and I survived the elements of Mother Nature. I told him of how I hiked all of these different elevations and got to climb, and he just looked at me and shook his head.

“I was like man, this is a tough guy,” she said, not knowing his story. She said she never knew her grandfather was a Bataan Death March survivor until after he passed away, and the story was shared with her by another relative.

Hunkin spoke of how her parents and grandparents taught her the value of leadership. She said it is an attribute she values as it allows her be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.

“I am so grateful that my parents and my grandparents taught me the beauty and the power of gratitude, love and kindness. I owe them my faith, my life and I owe them my breathtaking journey.

Hunkin, who actually goes by Pele, a word that in Samoan means Sweetheart, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994, and in 1997, she married her former husband and father of her children Deanne Ignacio Tajalle. Tajalle was killed in a tragic accident in Ballad, Iraq in 2006, leaving Pele as a single parent. Nevertheless, she continued her military career and actually retired as a sergeant first class in 2013. 

She said to become good leaders, it’s important to analyze the word itself.

“Love, Empower, Advocate and Deliver (L-E-A-D), “she said, as the audience repeated the words after her. “Leaders lead and bring people together. When leaders collaborate, the greater good emerges. We are called to love and empower each other to be our best selves. As leaders, we advocate for everyone, decide what needs to be done, and we work together to get it done.”

U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commanding General Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis and Mayor Daniel Rickenmann of Columbia, S.C., were also in attendance at the event.