Today marked a momentous (and long overdue) occasion. Congress awarded Filipino WWII veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Habor on December 7, 1941, Japanese began their attack and invasion of the Philippines. President Roosevelt called upon Filipinos to fight under the command of General MacArthur in the United States Armed Forces in the Far East. Still a commonwealth of the U.S. at the time, Filipinos fought as U.S. nationals alongside American soldier and were integral to the victory against Japanese forces. Yet after the war, Congress passed the 1946 Rescission Act, which essentially stated that Filipino service would not be recognized as active duty and therefore the citizenship and benefits promised to Filipino veterans were rescinded.
As the granddaughter of Filipino WII veteran, this is a topic that hits home. I’ll always remember my father telling me the stories his own father told him about the war, about the atrocities he witnessed, about the injury he sustained. I’ll also remember him telling me that his father worked as a farmer and their family lived in poverty without assistance from the U.S. government that had been promised. Upon immigrating to the United States in the 1980s, he would write letters asking that his veteran benefits be granted. He was met with no response.
Now, my grandfather and so many other veterans are no longer here to see their service finally recognized by the country they fought for.
Honoring Filipino veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal is a significant gesture, and it is well deserved. But in the end, it is only symbolic. More than 200,000 Filipinos fought for the USAFFE, and less than 20,000 are alive today. Most of those still alive today have not yet seen the citizenship and/or benefits they were promised when they entered the war 75 years ago. (In 2009, President Obama passed a bill awarding Filipino veterans with U.S. citizenship a one-time payment of $15,000 and those without U.S. citizenship $9,000. While beneficial, it did not fully remedy the decades they lacked veteran benefits.) It shouldn’t have taken this long for these veterans to see their bravery and sacrifice recognized, and it’s a shame our government overlooked their service for this long.
Nonetheless, I’m proud to be the granddaughter of a Filipino WII veteran and I’m happy that the veterans finally got the recognition they deserved for so long.
To the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project: Thank you for all you’ve done to make this possible. Your dedication to and advocacy for this issue is greatly appreciated by the families of Filipino veterans and the Filipino American community at large.
To the veterans: Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat. We will continue to honor your service and sacrifice, today and every day.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images