Star-Adv: ‘Congress OKs Filipino WWII Vets Medal’

Rosemarie Bernardo, “Congress OKs Filipino WWII vets medal,” Star-Advertiser, 1 Dec. 2016.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously voted to pass a measure that honors Filipino and Filipino-American World War II veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award by Congress.

“It’s an honor,” said Lucio Sanico of Kapolei, who served as private first-class in the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army. “I’m glad they start to recognize Filipino soldiers.”

The bill authorizing the Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act recognizes more than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who fought alongside the United States in the war. Today, there are 15,000 to 18,000 surviving members who reside in the United States and Philippines.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced companion bills, pushing for the long-awaited recognition of Filipino soldiers. The House’s passage of the measure follows that of the Senate, which voted to approve it in July.

The measure now goes to President Barack Obama.

Over the past decade, Congress bestowed eligibility of the medal to other minority military units including the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006; Navajo Code Talkers in 2008; Women Airforce Service Pilots in 2009; Japanese-American soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service, in 2010; Montford Point Marines, the first African-­Americans to serve in the Marine Corps, in 2011; and the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, the only Hispanic military unit in the Korean War, with a majority of the soldiers from Puerto Rico, in 2014. 

“It’s now our turn,” said Sanico.

He was among 300 Filipino-Americans from Hawaii who served during World War II. Today, there are fewer than 10 surviving Filipino veterans of the war in the state, all in their 90s.

“I hope I get the medal in my hand before I leave this earth,” said Sanico, who turns 92 today and also served in the Korean War with the 25th Infantry Division. “My children will be so proud of me.”

In a news release, Hirono said, “For months, we have said that time is running out to recognize Filipino World War II veterans for their brave service. Today’s House passage is the culmination of decades of work by these veterans and their families to recognize their key role in Allied victory, and their decades-long fight for benefits.”

GABBARD said: “Today, the United States Congress took a historic step forward in honoring the more than 200,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers that served our country during World War II.”

For Domingo Los Banos, 91, who served in the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, the recognition is bittersweet. Filipino veterans waited decades for much-deserved recognition by the U.S.

The first to respond to the U.S. to fight Japan in World War II were Filipinos, said Los Banos, a retired educator born in Wahiawa and raised on Kauai.

They were promised U.S. citizenship and health and pension benefits for fighting alongside the U.S., but Congress revoked that promise in 1946.

“I felt America failed these boys,” he added. “The congressional medal is just to patch this up.”

Though he is angry about the country’s failure to keep its word to Filipino soldiers, Los Banos said the Congressional Gold Medal is “recognition that our boys did play a very significant role in winning the war and defeating the Japanese Imperial Army.”

He thanked Hawaii’s members of Congress for continuing efforts initiated by the late U.S. Sens. Spark Matsunaga and Dan Inouye, and retired U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, to restore benefits for Filipino veterans.

According to a July 2015 Honolulu Star-Advertiser story, the Immigration Act of 1990 was implemented through Inouye and Akaka’s efforts, which included a provision that offered affected veterans citizenship.

ANOTHER measure, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, included a provision that authorized payment of benefits to 30,000 surviving Filipino veterans: $15,000 to citizens and $9,000 to noncitizens, according to the story.

In the news release, retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a 1968 Leilehua High School graduate who heads a national group, the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, said, “Today is truly a great day, a significant seminal period in American history — second only to the liberation of the Philippines and the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces on Aug. 15, 1945.”

“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.”

Retired Army Col. Ben Acohido, one of 11 regional coordinators of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project who oversees the region that covers Hawaii, Alaska and American Samoa, said the bill’s passage is important to help preserve the history of Filipino veterans, an effort the national group is working on to implement their role in history books at schools across the country.

Read the full article on the Star-Advertiser site.

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