Story of rescue and opportunity shared at AAPI Observance
USAG YONGSAN, South Korea -- The 1st Signal Brigade hosted the main observance for 2014 Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month at the Dragon Hill Lodge Naija Ballroom May 19.
Members of Eighth Army came to celebrate and recognize the culture and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the United States armed forces and to the nation.
The theme of this year's observance was "I am beyond," and it began with opening remarks highlighting significant contributions made by Asian American heroes such as Patsy Mink, the first Asian American woman to be elected to Congress and Daniel K. Inouye, long time senator and war time veteran who President Obama addressed as a true American hero.
The guest speaker for the ceremony, Lt. Col. Lan T. Dalat, chief of network operations management at Joint Command Information Systems Activity, 1st Signal Brigade, shared his story of rescue and reunion with all in attendance.
"It is an honor of me to be here as the guest speaker at this event to be celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage and to have the opportunity to share with you about how I got to where I am today," said Dalat.
Dalat, born in Vietnam, had to leave the country across the Saigon River on a boat with his family along with hundreds of other Vietnamese families as refugees shortly after his 14th birthday in 1981. "At the time we did not know where we were going, but we knew what we wanted. We wanted freedom and opportunities," Dalat said.
Dalat described the struggles of the refugees when 138 people were in a cramped, 35-foot wood boat barely making progress out in middle of the sea with no wind, no waves and no land in sight.
"I remember my brother asking my mother for water to drink because of dehydration," said Dalat. "She was only able to say, 'Son, we will get water soon when we land on shore.'"
After an enduring two weeks at sea, the refugees were rescued by Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Dan A. Pedersen, who commanded the USS Ranger CV-61 featured in the movie "Top Gun."
Dalat expressed that the Navy, the Army and the United States of America truly gave his family and himself the freedom that they sought and the opportunity to live the American dream.
Dalat, as one of the lucky few who were rescued, quickly adjusted to the new life in America.
Upon high school graduation, he enlisted first in the Army Reserve and served as a photojournalist. Dalat subsequently attended and graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and received his commission through the Army ROTC scholarship program in 1996.
Through his firsthand account of immigrating to the U.S. and joining the military, Dalat was able to paint a vivid picture of his experiences while providing an understanding and appreciation to a captivated audience of the challenges that had to be overcome by many Asian Americans.
Col. Paul H. Fredenburgh III, commander of 1st Signal Brigade, and Command Sgt. Maj. Darris Curry, Command Sergeant Major of 1st Signal Brigade presented Dalat a token of appreciation for sharing his inspiring story with the attendees.