WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Congress has finally granted national recognition to 260,000 Filipino and American soldiers who served under the United States Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE).
They have waited for more than 72 years for the recognition.
Last Nov. 30, the House of Representatives approved S.1555, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, passed by the Senate via unanimous consent in July. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.
“Today is truly a great day, a significant seminal period in American history – second only to the liberation of the Philippines and surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces on August 15, 1945,” said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Antonio Taguba, chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). “Now we can tell our veterans with pride in our hearts that this grateful nation has, at last, granted them recognition for the selfless sacrifice they endured in war, and restored their dignity and honor in service to their nation.”
Seventy years ago this past February, Congress passed the Rescission Act of 1946, a bill that stripped Filipino soldiers of the benefits promised them by President Roosevelt.
In hailing the bill’s passage, Taguba recalled the many conversations he has had with the veterans who endured “a lifetime of injustice and indignation” inflicted by the Rescission Act. “Yet, they remained steadfast and resolute, hoping our country they willingly defended would right the wrong brought upon them. Their courage and strength were their salvation. They placed their trust and expectations on their sons and daughters, on members of Congress, and the American people who believe in them.”
“I’m very happy because this recognition is long overdue,” sid 99-year old Filipino World War II veteran Celestino Almeda of Gaithersburg, Maryland, one of the less than 7,000 surviving veterans residing in the U.S. today. “We responded to President Roosevelt’s call to serve and risked our lives fighting under the American flag. But after the war was over, we were treated unjustly, which was painful and humiliating.”
Rudy Panaglima, 86, of Arlington, Virginia, has also harbored the same disappointment and frustration over the years, but is nonetheless “thrilled that the U.S. has now recognized us. It’s better late than never.” Panaglima was only 13 when he served with guerilla forces near his home in Cagayan, as a courier and scout. In 1995, he availed himself of the naturalization benefits granted to Filipino World War II veterans and immigrated with his wife Pura to the U.S.
“If Alberto Bacani were here today, you would see him beaming with joy,” says Marla Miranda Mooney of Stafford, Va. “On behalf of my grandfather and all our family, we are grateful for this timely recognition bestowed on World War II Filipino veterans and for all who worked diligently on their behalf for this day to become a reality.
“For my grandfather and all the veterans we honor with this award, the price to ensure democracy and restoration of peace worldwide meant risking personal safety. Though some were not professional soldiers, all of these extraordinary individuals answered President Roosevelt’s call to service. To them, we were not two separate people — we were One; united against anyone and anything which threatened our lives, liberty, and our pursuit of happiness.”
Bacani, who fought in Corregidor as a Major in the Philippine Commonwealth Army, died in November 2013