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NEWS | May 16, 2018

JB Charleston observes Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month

By Master Sgt. Leroy Coombes 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, celebrated throughout the month of May, honors Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.


Signed into law in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, the month of May was chosen because of two important dates in the middle of the month. The first Japanese immigrant traveled to the U.S. on May 7, 1843.  Then on May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed. The large majority of the track for the railroad was laid by Chinese immigrants. 


A broad term, “Asian/Pacific” encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia), and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island).


During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the U.S. honors the sacrifices and accomplishments of the members of the AAPI community.  It also celebrates the important influences they have made on our country's history, including American astronaut Ellison Onizuka, just to name one of many, many AAPI men and women who have made an immeasurable impact on American history.


Born in Hawaii in 1946, Ellison Onizuka entered active duty with the U.S. Air Force in January 1970.  He received his commission through the four-year ROTC program as a distinguished military graduate from the University of Colorado.  He was an aerospace flight test engineer with the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at the former McClellan AFB, Ca. Ellison was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978.  Aboard the Discovery, which completed 48 orbits of the Earth during the STS 51-C mission, Onizuka was the mission specialist. On what would be Onizuka’s final mission, he died on January 28, 1986, when the Challenger exploded just over one minute after launch. Sunnyvale Air Force Station, Ca., was renamed Onizuka Air Force Station on January 26, 1994. The base was active from 1960-2010.


For more information on Asian American & Pacific Island Heritage Month, visit