September 12, 2011; Source: The New York Daily News | The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, elected its first Asian American National Commander during its 93rd annual convention in Minneapolis earlier this month.
Fang Wong immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong half a century ago and worked undercover for the Army as a Chinese language expert during the Vietnam War. He retired as an Army chief warrant officer in 1989 and soon thereafter joined the Legion’s Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 in New York’s Chinatown. Twelve years later, Wong turned his Legion post into a base of operations from which he helped direct relief efforts in Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
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As the new leader of an organization of 2.4 million U.S. military veterans, it is now Wong’s job to lobby the Obama Administration and Congress to create much-needed jobs for soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The unemployment rate for returning veterans is 28%,” Wong told the Daily News. “We need the government sector and the private sector to understand that when you hire a veteran you get a very good employee.”
The Department of Defense reports that about 35,000 noncitizens are members of the military and approximately 5,000 to 8,000 immigrants with green cards enlist each year. The military actively recruits immigrants. As America’s military becomes more diverse, it is about time that an organization like the American Legion elects an Asian American immigrant as its leader.—Erwin de Leon