President Obama Signs Bill Granting Recognition to Filipino World War II Veterans
President Obama Signs Bill Granting Recognition to Filipino World War II Veterans
Next steps planned for newest Congressional Gold Medal recipients
Washington, D.C. Seventeen months after Congress introduced the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, a bill granting recognition to Filipino and American soldiers who served in the Pacific theater, their heretofore forgotten story of uncommon valor became enshrined in U.S. history when President Obama signed the measure into law on December 14, 2016.
But it took more than seven decades for this moment to arrive.
“After enduring 75 years of injustice and humiliation, our Filipino World War II veterans finally regained their honor and dignity with the signing of this historic bill,” said Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), Chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). “With deep gratitude, our nation has now fully recognized the service and sacrifice of our brave heroes who fought valiantly under the American flag.”
To FilVetREP Board Member Christy Poisot of Houston, TX, granddaughter of a Filipino World War II veteran, “this historic act by Congress and the President of the United States provides the foundation for us to ensure that their amazing stories of heroism are now part of the American story. This means my grandfather and my family can have closure. They will be honored and not forgotten.”
Adds FilVetREP Board Member Sony Busa, of Annandale, VA: “It is said that a person dies twice, the first time when they breathe their last, and the next time when their name is mentioned for the last time. By awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, especially to those who have passed away, our veterans will not die a second time. They will always be remembered. This is the least we can do for these honored veterans who have sacrificed so much so that we may enjoy the freedoms we have today.”
Bookending President Obama’s Administration in the closing days of his Presidency
In lauding Obama’s action, Taguba recalls that among Obama’s first acts in office was the signing in January 2009 of a bill creating the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund, which grants a one-time lump sum payment to Filipino World War II veterans. “We also remember his most recent executive action this year to launch the Filipino WWII Veterans Parole Program, allowing veterans to reunite with their families,” he points out. “He has been a champion for our veterans throughout his time in public service on the national stage, and we salute him for his leadership.”
Taguba also acknowledges the tireless efforts of former Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI), who spent most of their years in Congress fighting for veterans equity rights. “They inspired others to champion the veterans’ cause – notably Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dean Heller (R-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Harry Reid (D-NV) in the Senate, and U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Joe Heck (R-NV), Mark Takai (D-HI), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Mike Honda (D-CA) in the House. Thanks to them, the 18,000 veterans who are still alive don’t have to wait any longer. We recognize Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI) posthumously for his efforts on behalf of the veterans.”
“Recognition, after all, is what our veterans need more than anything else, an official thank you from the government that ordered them to fight under the American flag,” Taguba points out. “But it can only be demonstrated with Congress awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal. They are most deserving of this honor, and we are heartened that in February 1946, Congress stripped them of their rights and benefits. In November 30, 2016, Congress passed the congressional gold medal bill to rectify a grave injustice.”
A long journey
Thelma Sevilla of Seattle, WA., daughter of a Philippine Scout, remembers “the sacrifices, and perseverance of the many Filipino soldiers who served the United States. Their journey before, during and after the war for justice and recognition has been a long and arduous one. And now that journey nears the end. In my 20 plus years of Filipino Veterans advocacy work, I have come to know and understand their courage, patience, and quiet strength, waiting for justice that’s long overdue.”
In Seattle, a number of living Filipino veterans are looking forward to receiving their medals, Sevilla said. Among them are 97-year-old Gregorio Garcia, 99-year-old Escolastico Galarosa and 98-year-old Joe Taton. “Along with countless fellow Bataan and Corregidor survivors and POWs who have since passed away, they would be thrilled just knowing that America has not forgotten them.”
In Washington, D.C. 99-year-old Celestino Almeda, 88-year-old Rey Cabacar and 86-year-old Rudy Panaglima, are also delighted that the day they’ve been waiting for finally came. “My children will now have something to pass on to their children and their children’s children,” Cabacar says. “I’m swelling with pride that the America I served has come through for me and my fellow veterans.”
With the bill’s signing, FilVetREP is now planning the way ahead for the veterans to mark this historic event. Immediate plans include providing information for veterans and their families on how to get involved. The FilVetREP website, www.filvetrep.org, will be a definitive source of information, with an FAQ, updates on resources and events.
FilVetREP will also work with the U.S. Mint and the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts to design the Congressional Gold Medal. More than 20,000 bronze replicas of the medal will be produced, which will be individually awarded to eligible veterans.
“FilVetREP has vowed to raise the funds to cover the cost of these medals,” Taguba said. “We also need to plan a national exhibition and create an education program, which will enshrine the Congressional Gold Medal, and the veterans whose service it recognizes, for generations to come.”
“Given these activities, fundraising is going to be our main focus in the coming months,” Taguba said further. “We are counting on the Filipino American community, advocates, sponsors, and partners across the country to give generously and work just as hard in building our financial resources so we can accomplish our mission of preserving our veterans’ story for posterity.”
“Now the real work begins,” FilVetREP Outreach Director Ben de Guzman states. “We continue to engage the White House and the Congress to make sure our lawmakers fully manifest the gratitude of a grateful nation for these veterans. We’ll be working with folks in Washington and around the country to make sure we lift up the veterans and that our celebratory events for them are worthy of the sacrifices they made in the war and have continued to make in the 70 plus years since.”
Adds Nonie Cabana of San Antonio, TX., and a FilVetREP Deputy Regional Director: “We will also continue to engage our grassroots supporters who have been pivotal in securing the needed votes from the Senate and the House. This is a huge victory for the Filipino American community because we applied ourselves vigorously, in so many different ways of organizing and mobilizing, forming alliances at local and state levels, and touching the hearts and minds of citizens who rallied behind a worthy cause. We owe our veterans a huge debt of gratitude and the least we can do is make sure we keep their memory alive.”
“Most importantly, to our Veterans of WWII, we proudly salute you with the utmost reverence for your distinguished service to a grateful Nation,” Taguba said.
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The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), is a nonpartisan,501(c)(3) tax-exempt, community-based, all-volunteer national initiative whose mission is to obtain national recognition of Filipino and American WW11 soldiers across the United States and the Philippines for their wartime service to the U.S. and the Philippines from July 26, 1941 to December 31, 1946. For more information about Filipino WWII veterans and how to get involved, visit our website at www.filvetrep.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
Contact: Jon Melegrito