Tobias Wolff once wrote, “We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.” That rings especially true in Donny Ng’s life. His journey to that self-defining persistence began long before his service as a young soldier in the U.S. Army. Donny was born in Hong Kong and emigrated with his parents to the U.S. in 1982 at the age of ten. He began learning a second language and was surrounded strangers in a foreign land. Family kept him going, spurned him on, and he persisted.
Just eight years later as he was graduating high school, a recruiter lured him into the military as a multilaunch rocket systems specialist. When he arrived at his first duty station, an unfamiliar radar unit in Germany, he didn’t even bother to unpack. Just a few months after graduating high school, Donny found himself in the rolling deserts of Saudi Arabia. The windswept sand dunes, parking lots, and rows of stiff cots were far from his parents and his wife, whom he had married just after basic training. Fear crept to the forefront of his young mind, but he pressed on. Three weeks later, ground combat erupted, and Donny was separated from the radar unit with whom he had bonded. It wasn’t long before he took these strangers as his brothers and waded into the fray alongside them.
Back in his assigned occupation, Donny and his brothers launched rockets at the enemy day after day. As they pressed out into the front, the Iraqis began lighting the oil fields on fire. The earth exhaled black smoke and belched fire until the blazing plumes blotted out the sun, turning day to night. Donny and his unit journeyed down miles of highway lined with burnt husks of cars and still-burning enemy tanks. Ever in the wake of desolation, Donny and his fellow soldiers pressed on. After one hundred and forty-six American warriors fell in just six months, Kuwait was soon liberated and troops began returning home in March of 1991. Tens of thousands of the enemy had been killed.
Donny soon removed his Army uniform for the sake of his family life, which had suffered greatly for his service. Though, Donny had already instilled in his own two sons the discipline, sheer force of will, and fraternity of uniformed service he had learned, eventually prompting them to follow in his footsteps. However, Donny’s need for resistance, the need to persist against something for the sake of something greater, a need he had come to cultivate in the military and in his children soon took hold. Donny put on another uniform in 1995 as a police officer.
Once again surrounded by strangers in a common uniform, Donny soon took each of them as his brother in a different kind of fight. Rather than let his veteran status define him, Donny Ng allowed his experiences in the Army – and in the smoldering oil fields of wartorn Iraq – inform his identity. Donny persisted and emained unwavering. His new war was for order; his new battle was for peace.