May is a special time to celebrate exceptional individuals of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. We’ll discuss three individuals who offer inspiring stories of their own.
Ellison Onizuka was the first Asian American to break through the atmosphere and fly into the great beyond of space on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985. He was also a distinguished servicemember of the U.S. Air Force.
While in the Air Force, Onizuka served as a test pilot and flight test engineer at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base. At the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, he spent over 1,700 registered hours flying, ultimately earning the rank of Colonel.
As an astronaut, he was part of NASA’s historic Astronaut Class of 1978, also known as the “Thirty-Five New Guys.” This was the first new class of astronaut candidates since 1969.
Unfortunately Onizuka was one of the victims of the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. However, his memory is alive and well, and he’ll forever be an honored astronaut and Air Force veteran.
A member of the U.S. Army before becoming a politician, Norman Mineta would ultimately end up as the longest-serving member of the U.S. Department of Transportation and be in charge of reforming trust in flying after 9/11. He was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Transportation Security Administration.
Mineta started his life as the son of Japanese immigrant parents. He and his family were forced into internment camps during World War II. When he was released, he attended and graduated from the University of California of Berkeley. Upon joining the Army in 1953, he served as an intelligence officer in Korea and Japan.
He soon decided to enter the political sphere in his hometown of San Jose, California. Mineta served on the City Council from 1967 to 1971 before becoming mayor in 1971 until 1974. This made him the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city. He would go on to eventually become a Congressman, overseeing the Department of Transportation during the 9/11 attacks.
Mineta was deeply affected by his experiences during World War II and became a prominent advocate for Asian American civil rights. One of his most notable accomplishments was his successful effort to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This act represented an official apology and offered reparations to Asian Americans who were victims of Japanese internment camps.
Tammy Duckworth is currently a U.S. Senator from Illinois, though she’s also well known as the former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Before that, Duckworth was an Iraq War veteran who flew combat missions in a Blackhawk helicopter. While flying in combat in 2004, her aircraft was struck by an RPG. She lost both her legs and some function of her right arm. However, she went on to hold a successful career in politics where she focused on veterans’ rights.
As Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Duckworth succeeded in establishing programs for veterans, including:
- Advancing availability of housing and health care.
- Instituted a crisis hotline.
- Developing a tax credit incentive for employers to hire former servicemembers.
Duckworth continued to help veterans in exemplary ways, going on to serve under President Obama, where she made a great many advancements aimed at easing the challenges this vulnerable population commonly faces.
Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage this May
This May, you can use these stories as inspiration to excel in your own life. All three of these individuals have inspiring stories noteworthy for their instances of bravery and exceptional accomplishments.