It Is Important to Take a Moment to Remember the Sacrifice of People Who Make Our Nation Special
As our country mourns the death of seven U.S. Navy sailors, a new piece from Dave Phillips of the New York Times serves as a reminder of the strength our country gathers from its diversity – a unique American advantage that must be celebrated. The story of these young people should remind us of the idea that this is America and what has always made us special. We must remember to celebrate E Pluribus Unum.
“7 Sailors Emerged From Diverse Backgrounds to Pursue a Common Cause” is excerpted below and available online here.
The seven sailors who died when the destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a container ship last weekend were a snapshot of the nation they served: an immigrant from the Philippines whose father served in the Navy before him; a poor teenager whose Guatemalan family came north eager for opportunity; a native of Vietnam hoping to help his family; a firefighter’s son from a rural crossroads in the rolling green fields of Virginia.
The roll call of the dead also illustrated the degree to which the military relies on recruits from immigrant communities around the country.
Seaman Huynh, who went by Tan, was born in Da Nang, Vietnam, in 1992, and immigrated with his mother to the United States in 1994, looking for a better life, said Ms. Huynh. But his mother struggled to find her economic footing here, and his childhood was difficult and unsettled, with the family moving often. As the oldest of four siblings, he felt the tug of responsibility.
By 2014, Seaman Huynh, who his sister said became a citizen in 2009, was yearning to find adventure and a way to provide for his family, she said. So he enlisted in the Navy and was soon assigned to the destroyer that traveled to ports in Australia, Japan and Korea.
Mr. Huynh turned 25 on Friday, shortly before the collision that cost him his life.
“Wishing him a happy birthday,” Ms. Huynh said, “was the last thing we said to him.”
In recent years, the military has tried to draw in immigrants with programs that allow enlistees to become citizens after basic training, attracting about 5,000 takers each year, according to the Defense Department. One out of every 13 sailors is foreign born, the highest proportion in any military branch, according to the Navy. The service regularly holds citizenship ceremonies aboard ships.
At the same time, the proportion of racial and ethnic minorities in the military, mirroring the nation as a whole, has surged to 40 percent — nearly twice what it was 20 years ago.
Former sailors from the destroyer said the diverse ranks shared a common cause.
“You are crammed in with all sorts of cultures on the ship,” said Corey Bell, 23, of Wynne, Ark., who served on the destroyer with six of the sailors who died. “But when you are on the Fitzgerald, you’re family. There was no racism or nothing.”
The relatives of Gunner’s Mate Second Class Noe Hernandez of Weslaco, Tex., whose family immigrated from Central America, followed his Navy travels around the world from their small town in the southern tip of Texas. Seaman Hernandez, 26, was stationed first in Italy, then in California, then in Japan.
“We just felt so proud that one of our own was living this life,” his cousin Aly Hernandez-Singer said. She added, “To me, he represents — I’ll be honest, I have to say it — what Trump says we are not. He represents the good side of the Latino community. He was a proud American. He was a good citizen, and he was Latino and proud of his roots.”