Filipino World War II veterans receive Congressional Gold Medal awards in LA

The first batch of Congressional Gold Medals awarded to Filipino WWII veterans and next of kin in a ceremony in Historic Filipinotown

Filipino World War II veterans in LA on Wednesday, May 9 began receiving their Congressional Gold Medals, a long-awaited formal recognition for the more than 260,000 Filipino soldiers and guerrilla fighters who fought under the American flag.

In 2016, 70 years after the Rescission Act of 1946 annulled benefits that would have been awarded to Filipino soldiers for their military service, former President Barack Obama signed into law a measure that honors Filipino and Filipino-American WWII veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM), the highest congressional honor awarded to civilians. 

On Oct. 25, 2017, two dozen Filipino WWII veterans traveled to Congress to officially accept the CGM, and on Wednesday, veterans in Los Angeles began personally receiving their honors at the ceremony held by the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP).

“This award ceremony is long overdue, and we’ve heard time and again from living World War II veterans and their loved ones that their time of recognition must be accomplished, and that’s what we’re here to do today”, former Major General of the United States Army and FilVetREP Chairman Antonio Taguba said in his opening remarks of Wednesday’s ceremony at the Filipino Cultural Center in Historic Filipinotown.

Present at Wednesday’s ceremony were eight living Filipino World War II veterans — who range in age from their late 80s to a veteran who is 101 years old — and 16 family members of veterans who have passed away. Taguba personally handed each veteran and family member with the medal, signaling the relief of long-awaited acknowledgment and honor.

As a 21-year-old guerilla fighter in Northern Luzon in the Philippines, Franco Arcebal, who is now 94 years old, endured intense torture when he was captured by the Japanese military during the war.

“I was so young and suffered so much,” Arcebal shared with the Asian Journal. “They did many things. They hung me up on a tree and did waterboarding.”

He said that, although his warfighting days are long past him, he still possesses the vivid, sensory details of his service: the blasts of canons, bomb explosions, dodging bullets from enemy fire and witnessing “with my own eyes” his comrades being shot down.

Among the estimated 260,000 Filipino soldiers in the Second World War, nearly 60,000 perished in during combat, thousands were permanently injured or were prisoners of war and hundreds are still considered missing in action to this day. 

“These Filipino veterans, like all others who served in the war under the American flag, we were denied the justice since February 1946,” said Arcebal, who is now a spokesman for the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans. The veteran called the denial of benefits and recognition to the Filipino soldiers a contradiction to the American values of “liberty and justice for all.”

The Rescission Act of 1946, reluctantly signed by then-President Harry Truman, voided the service of Filipino soldiers because their time of duty was not a part of “active military, naval or air service for the purposes of any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits upon any person.”

Despite Truman’s reservations in not directly honoring the Filipino veterans “who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war,” Filipino veterans would not see any benefits awarded to them until 2009 when President Barack Obama signed the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Act.

This law rewarded a one-time lump sum payment to these veterans and their families. Then, in 2016, the family-based immigration program, the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, was established to reunite veterans with their families in the U.S.

For decades, and countless other veterans and activists have fought for recognition for their efforts in the war. Although the CGM honor was long overdue and many soldiers did not live to witness the recognition, he is proud that Filipino war veterans are finally honored in the way that the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Talkers were for their WWII efforts.

“Nevertheless, this medal provides another very good reason for us to pleased and thankful for once more kasi (because) in my commonsensical view, this Congressional Gold Medal is now a significant part of history and I hold that honor with pride,” Arcebal remarked, proudly holding up his medal.

Veterans and families who may be eligible to receive the CGM for Filipino WWII Veterans may visit http://www.filvetrep.org/eligibility to learn more.

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