Seventy-five years after the United States entered World War II, Filipino Veterans received national recognition when they were recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian honor the United States can bestow.
On July 26, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt called upon all organized military forces of the Philippines into the service of the United States under the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East. When Pearl Harbor and Manila were attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, these soldiers were brought into direct combat as the U.S. officially entered World War II. During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, U.S. and Filipino soldiers fought together in many battles across the Philippine islands, including the battles in Bataan, Corrigedor, Luzon and Leyte.
During the Battle of Corregidor, American forces ultimately surrendered to the Japanese. These soldiers were taken as prisoners of war and were forced to endure the infamous Bataan Death March. Between 60,000 – 80,000 Filipinos and Americans marched approximately 65 miles through the jungles to confinement camps throughout the Philippines. They were deprived of food, water and medical attention and many were killed on the spot if they stopped to rest. During the march, approximately 10,000 men died. Of these men, 1,000 were American and 9,000 were Filipino.
Despite the Japanese occupation, the Filipinos organized guerillas in resistance and vowed to fight against the Japanese. They formulated plans to assist the return of American forces to the islands. They gathered important intelligence information and smuggled it out to the U.S. Army, a process that sometimes took months. By the end of that war, more than 260,000 individuals fought in the resistance movement.
The bravery, heroism and dedication of the Filipino Veterans played an integral part of leading Allied powers to victory in the Pacific. After the war, President Harry Truman signed laws that stripped away many promises of benefits and citizenship for Filipino Veterans.
“I have waited along with my Filipino and American soldiers for this moment to come,” said Celestino Almeda, a 100-year-old Filipino World War II Veteran who accepted the Congressional Gold Medal. “After the war, thousands of us felt underappreciated and unrecognized for fighting for our country.”
But those Veterans never gave up. They came together and organized and fought for what they had earned. In 1990, Congress awarded citizenship to thousands of Filipino Veterans and extended VA benefits to them.
“I wondered why, and what else could we have done in defeating the enemy, in defending the United States of America and bringing victory during a war in the Philippines. But we stand loyal to our country, relied on our faith and prayer. We thank the Lord for watching over us throughout this long ordeal,” said Almeda.
“You’ve waited a long time for this recognition for this heroism and courage, and you are remarkable warriors who are so deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal,” said VA secretary Dr. David Shulkin during the Oct. 25 ceremony.