Decades after they were all but abandoned by the country they fought for, Filipino WWII veterans were finally presented the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) today. This award, the highest civilian award given by the US, is presented to people or groups who have impacted American history and culture.
More than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers fought with the Allied forces during the war. Over 57,000 were killed in action and thousands more were wounded. It’s estimated that there are about 18,000 Filipino WWII vets still alive today, with anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 still living in the US.
The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) has been instrumental in this long overdue recognition. FIlVetREP is the national point-of-contact for the CGM and is currently working on a national registry for Filipino veterans. Because of age and physical limitations of these vets, FilVetREP is considering regional award ceremonies here in the US. There are even plans for veterans residing in the Philippines to receive replicas of the award as well.
“We secured the Congressional Gold Medal to honor our veterans and demonstrate our deepest gratitude for their supreme sacrifice,” said FilVetREP Chairman Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret). “We will ensure that our national celebration of this historic achievement is one that treats our veterans with the utmost dignity and respect. We are, therefore, calling on all our supporters to make this important event happen. It’s for our veterans and they deserve to have a memorable event.”
During the war, military service was a reliable way for people to become American citizens. From 1941 to the end of the war, the process became easier. Filipino men were recruited and given citizenship in massive naturalization ceremonies. Besides citizenship, President Roosevelt promised full veterans benefits to any Filipinos who joined.
That all changed after the war when President Truman signed the Rescission Act, which retroactively annulled the offer of citizenship and veterans benefits. Out of the 66 countries that were allied with the US during the war, only Filipinos were denied benefits. If that wasn’t enough, the Filipino contribution to the war has been whitewashed over the decades. (To learn more about what really happened, check out the Bataan Legacy Historical Society.)
The effort to recognize the WWII Filipino veterans will continue long after the CGM is presented,” Taguba said. “There are plans to collect the stories of the veterans and for an expanded educational website. The mission will continue so that the next generation will know and remember what the veterans did for them.”
Bronze replicas of the award will be given to surviving veterans or their next-of-kin once eligibility has been vetted. These are not funded by the Government. Donations to support the CGM activities can be made through the FilVetRep’s website.
Updated Oct. 25