Filipino WWII Veterans: Leave No Veteran Behind
Our guest blog post today is courtesy of Maj. General Tony Taguba (Ret.). General Taguba is the National Chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), a non profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about Filipino WWII veterans and their contributions to the United States and to the Philippines. The second highest ranking Filipino American in the U.S. Army during his tenure, he is the proud son of a World War II veteran and also serves as a Community Ambassdor for AARP.
* In the interest of transparency, National Managing Coordinator Ben de Guzman serves on the Executive Committee of FilVetREP.
Filipino WWII Veterans: Leave No Veteran Behind
This year, April 9 marks the 74th anniversary of the fall of Bataan, a pivotal moment in U.S. military history in the Pacific theater during World War II. General Douglas MacArthur’s strategic retreat and the Bataan Death March that ensued- when 160,000 soldiers, Filipino and American alike, were forced to walk over 65 miles through rugged jungle terrain by the Japanese Imperial Army- are central to how we remember the war. The years that followed, when Filipinos and Americans worked together to disrupt Japanese Imperial forces in the Philippines played a critical role in holding the line and allowing for future success for the Allied Forces down the road. I’m pleased to join the Philippine Embassy this Friday April 8 for a commemorative event that remembers this history and looks at what it means for us today.
As a life-long public servant, I spent most of my career in the U.S. military avoiding the spotlight. I had always felt that my work spoke for itself and that it was not about me, but about the nation I served, the Constitution I swore to uphold, and the brave women and men in my charge who entrusted me with their own military careers. Even when my work was in the public eye, I always felt that what was important was not any notoriety I may or may not have gained, but doing the right thing, and the sunshine that was able to shine as a result of public scrutiny.
What I have learned through decades of service to my country and to my community though, is that recognition matters when it lifts up stories that need to be told. It’s that lesson I bring to my work now with the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). As the son of a WWII veteran, I grew up with the legacy of “the greatest generation” and learned what it meant to serve your country at the time of greatest need. Unfortunately, as a Filipino American growing up in Hawai`i and then moving to the mainland, the stories of my father and other Filipinos (our fellow countrymen or “kababayan”) whose unique status as Filipino nationals under the U.S. flag were not adequately told to me either in school or in my military training. We weren’t told that despite serving in some of the most dire conditions anywhere during WWII, the 1946 Rescission Acts revoked the status of hundreds of thousands of Filipino soldiers like my father as U.S. veterans. Fortunately, my father served in a military unit that still afforded him veterans status and he was able to receive the benefits befitting his service. But too many soldiers like him spent their years after the war being told that despite their battle scars, their service wasn’t good enough.
The work of FIlVetREP now is to tell these veterans that despite decades of neglect, we do recognize you, your service IS good enough, and that we will do what we can to make sure your service receives the dignity it rightly deserves. Our campaign to pass legislation to grant a Congressional Gold Medal to these Filipino WWII veterans is the least we can do for them. Our champions in the Senate and the House, including Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Congressmembers Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Dr. Joe Heck (R-NV) know that it is important to recognize their service not just as Filipino Americans, but because their service is a critical part of the war effort overall. The VFW, the nation’s oldest and most well respected Veterans Service Organization, knows that it is important to recognize their service and did so last summer when they passed a resolution officially calling for passage of the Congressional Gold Medal legislation. The timing for this could not be more critical, as more and more of these brave soldiers pass away as they age well into their 90s. We call on the Congress to pass this legislation so that the Filipino veterans of World War II who fought for this country can get the simple dignity of recognition from a grateful nation.
The work of FilVetREP is also to remind all of our friends, allies, and the public at large that their story, while unique, is part of the American story as well. The brave men and women who marched for their lives in Bataan were American and Filipino alike, united in the struggle for freedom on a global scale. The bullets shot at them couldn’t discriminate against their Filipino or American targets because they stood shoulder to shoulder. The sacrifices these soldiers made and their critical contribution to the war effort helped secure democracy for an entire grateful nation and deserve recognition that we can win for them now through passage of Congressional Gold Medal legislation.
Every person I speak to about this issue reminds me that this is not a question of Filipino military service, it is a question of American military service. No one who hears this story (including the actor Joe Mantegna, who graciously provided the voiceover for our PSA) can deny that their service merits recognition. We just need to make sure that enough members of Congress in the House and Senate hear our voices and pass this bill this year before more veterans pass on, their dreams of recognition dashed.
The commemoration of the Fall of Bataan and the Bataan Death March is an opportunity for us to win more converts and to build momentum for this issue. Everyone who reads this now, everyone who signs our petition to call for Congressional Gold Medal legislation, becomes one more part of the ongoing story of these Filipino WWII veterans and their journey towards fuller recognition and fuller incorporation into the American story. Can you join us?
The Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 (HR 2737 and S 1555) is currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress. For more information, find the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) online at www.filvetrep.org.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.