NEWS | May 23, 2018

Stories of Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage shared at Fort McCoy

By Aimee Malone Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office

The contributions of Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other ethnic and cultural groups are essential to the United States’ heritage and success as a country, said Maj. Eline D. Moeolo-Tuitele at Fort McCoy’s Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance May 17 at McCoy’s Community Center.

Moeolo-Tuitele with the 88th Readiness Division, the oldest of nine children, was born in American Samoa. American Samoa is an unincorporated U.S. territory in the South Pacific Ocean, about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. It became a U.S. territory in 1900 after the 1899 Tripartite Convention, which divided the Samoan Islands between Germany and the United States.

Moeolo-Tuitele has served in the Army and Army Reserve since 1997, and three of her siblings have also joined the Army.

“The transition into the military was seamless for me because of the life lessons and values instilled in me from my parents, family, and our way of life,” Moeolo-Tuitele said.

Moeolo-Tuitele’s parents were both educators and encouraged their children to work hard and keep improving themselves, she said. 

They taught both through stories and by example, she said. Her father told her about how, when he was a child, schoolchildren would join their parents in the mountains to gather copra, which the dried kernel of a coconut and used in making coconut oil.

“Rain or shine, Dad would carry baskets loads packed with copra on his back, taking the same path through the unpaved roads from the mountaintop to the village miles below,” Moeolo-Tuitele said. He told her how heavy the baskets were and how slippery the paths were when it rained.

When her father was a young teacher, he lived on the island of Ofu and taught on Olosega. At the time, there was no bridge between the two islands, and those who lived on Ofu had to wait for low tide.

“At low tide, when it was safe for them to cross, they would place their change of clothes, lunch, and school supplies above their head and cross the strait,” Moeolo-Tuitele said.

She said she crossed the strait herself when she was young, sitting on her grandfather’s shoulders, and the experience was etched in her mind. 

“It was a tough life in comparison to mine,” she said. 

“When I found myself carrying a heavy rucksack marching for miles at basic training or through the hills of Uijeongbu, South Korea, I knew that was nothing in comparison to what my dad and others like him had to endure daily.”

Her father continued to work hard, she said, and retired as the director for Special Education after 45 years of service. He earned the money to build houses for both his parents and his own family.

Her parents worked hard to support their family and give their children a chance for better lives, she said. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen, graduated college, and worked hard to become the first commissioned officer in her family.

“This story is not just about me, but each part reflects on the experience shared by many Pacific Islanders in pursuit of the American dream,” Moeolo-Tuitele said. “Our great nation’s story has been tied to the Pacific for centuries. Generations of fearless men and women have crossed the Pacific Ocean seeking better lives and opportunities, and weaving their rich heritage into our cultural tapestry.”

“Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have contributed immeasurably to our nation’s development and diversity as a people,” states the 2018 Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month proclamation issued by President Donald J. Trump. “During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we recognize their tremendous contributions, which have helped strengthen our communities, industries, Armed Forces, national security, and institutions of governance.”

For more information about Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, visit https://asianpacificheritage.gov/.