After 70 Years, Filipino Vets of WWII to Receive Congressional Gold Medal

Filipino and Filipino American veterans of World War II will receive the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony on Oct. 25 honoring their courage and heroism which helped guide the Allied forces to victory.

Nearly 260,000 Filipino and Filipino American veterans answered President Roosevelt’s call to arms in 1941. Although several veteran groups from ally countries have already been honored for their contributions, Filipino and Filipino American vets had yet to receive such recognition until Sen. Mazie Hirono introduced The Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Medal Act in November 2015. The bill was passed last December.

“Of course we are thrilled,” said Jon Melegrito, executive secretary of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). “I am a son of a WWII veteran myself. He died in 2005, so I’m sad he didn’t live long enough to witness the Congressional Presentation. I have an 89-year old uncle, however, who’s coming down from New York on Oct. 25. This news has perked him up considerably, boosting his spirit. He thought this day would never come.”

Indeed, such recognition has been withheld from these veterans for nearly 70 years, and many of their benefits as veterans were taken away by the Rescission Act of 1946, which held that Filipino veterans who fought under the auspices of the U.S. in WWII were not considered active American servicemen and therefore would not receive the benefits of such.

FilVetREP and other organizations have been trying for years to get justice for the brave Filipinos who fought in WWII. In 2009, President Obama signed a bill that provided $15,000 in payments to surviving Filipino veterans to be considered as “back pay” for their services. The Gold Medal Ceremony is a fitting capstone to their long journey.

“This is the culmination of our community’s efforts to secure for our brave soldiers the recognition they rightfully deserve,” said FilVetREP Chairman Maj. General Antonio Taguba, whose father also served in WWII. “At the awards ceremony honoring them, we will take this opportunity as a grateful nation to thank these heroes for their duty to country and to make sure we keep their memories and stories alive.”

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor that Congress can bestow on a civilian. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will take part in the ceremony, which will be live streamed via the House Speaker’s official website.