Although they were sworn in by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as members of the United States Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), they were deprived of equal protection and equal treatment as U.S. nationals – rights enjoyed by their fellow American soldiers who fought the same battles in defense of the same United States flag.
“Because of the Rescission Acts of 1946, Filipino World War II veterans were not only deprived of combat pay; they suffered severe humiliation, painful loss of dignity and honor, and the shameful betrayal by a nation whom they served with loyalty and uncommon valor,” says Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. “For more than 70 years, our veterans endured these racially-motivated acts, which singled them out for discrimination and unfair treatment.”
From July 26, 1941 to December 31, 1946, Filipino Army soldiers and guerrillas fought and defended a sovereign territory of the United States, as part of the U.S. Armed Forces Far East, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. Their courage, selfless sacrifice, and fierce determination defeated the Japanese Imperial Forces in Oct 1944, and in the liberation of the Philippines in August 1945.
During the entire Philippine War campaign, over 260,000 Filipino and American soldiers and guerrillas served. They suffered heavy losses in casualties, estimated at 57,000, in the now famous battles of Bataan and Corregidor. During the infamous Bataan Death March, about seventy thousand prisoners of war – both American and Filipino – marched 65 miles to Japanese internment camps, where they were imprisoned under inhuman conditions.
Despite the essential role Filipino soldiers played in the United States victory in the Pacific during World War II, their contributions in defending democracy and liberty were totally ignored. Instead, the U.S. government denied them one important right given to everyone else who has served in the United States Military: the right to veterans’ benefits.
Of the 66 allied nations who fought with the U.S. in World War II, only the Philippines was singled out by the Rescission Acts of 1946.
MORAL OBLIGATION. In signing the legislation, President Harry S. Truman said, however, that the United States is not released from “its moral obligation to provide for the heroic Philippine veterans who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war… They fought with gallantry and courage under the most difficult conditions during the recent conflict.” The late U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), who championed the Filipino veterans’ struggle for justice and equity for 20 years, criticized the 1946 Rescission Acts for their “anti-Filipino discriminatory intent.” Congress took this action, Inouye said, “in spite of the fact that Filipino veterans in our armed forces rendered services that were identical to that rendered by other, non-Filipino soldiers who were American nationals or who held United States citizenship.”
Filipino World War II veterans have, indeed, suffered a grievous wrong and have sought to correct this grave injustice by seeking equal treatment for their valiant military service in our armed forces. Sadly, they only succeeded in winning funeral and burial expenses, prompting some of them to conclude that old Filipino soldiers must die first before the U.S. government can repay them for their military services.
In 2009, almost 63 years later, Congress eventually granted them one-time lump sum payments as financial compensation: $15,000 each for those who are US citizens and $9,000 each for non-US citizens.
Finally, in November last year, Congress passed the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015. It took more than 70 years for the United States to affirm its appreciation and thanks.
“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,” Taguba said. “Let us never forget that our veterans endured a lifetime of injustice and indignation inflicted by a shameful act of Congress. It was an ugly stain in this nation’s history.”
NEXT STEPS. Now that the Congressional Gold Medal Award has enshrined the Filipino WWII veterans' place in U.S. history, FilVetREP is leading a nationwide effort to ensure Filipino WWII veterans and their families are able to receive the benefits of this historic achievement. FilVetREP is working to build a record of eligible Filipino and American veterans, including the closest surviving relatives of deceased veterans, Through a national fundraising campaign, FilVetREP National Chairman Maj. General Tony Taguba notes, "We want to cover the cost of providing a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal to each eligible veterans, or in the case of deceased veterans, their eligible closest surviving relative. We expect to honor about 20,000 recipients." With the minting of the Congressional Gold Medal expected to take at least nine months, plans are underway to hold a national celebration later this year for the awarding ceremonies. FilVetREP's ongoing work will ensure that educational programming will be in place to tell future generations about the lasting legacy of the Filipino WWII veterans.
In the meantime, FilVetREP, in cooperation with the Philippine Veterans Affairs Administration (PVAO), is actively creating a national registry of eligible veterans and surviving relatives, which includes vetting potential CGM recipients in conformity with the provisions of the Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act.
More information about donations and the national registry may be found in filvetrep.org, or via social media on Facebook and Twitter.
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.