Congressional Gold Medal for WWII Filipino veterans one step closer to reality

A bill to award Filipino World War II veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal was passed in a unanimous vote by the U.S. Senate Wednesday, bringing the effort one step closer to reality.

Authored by Sen. Mazie Hirono and also known as the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, S. 1555 now requires its House counterpart, H.R. 2737, to gather 290 co-sponsors before the bill can be voted on. It currently has 172, according to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).

The medal is the highest honor given by the U.S. Congress and has been given to other WWII groups like the Navajo Code Talkers and the Japanese American Nisei. More than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino American soldiers served in the war, about 16,000 of whom are still alive. The bill affects those who served from 1941 to 1946. If passed the medal will go on display at the Smithsonian Institution for education and research.

Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, chairman of the volunteer organization Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project – which began the initiative – said last year during Filipino American History Month that the veterans “risked their lives to secure democracy and freedom and ensure a better life for generations of Americans. It’s now America’s turn to thank our brave heroes and recognize their sacrifice and service to this country. Theirs is a national story that must be preserved and passed on with utmost pride.”

Reacting to the vote Wednesday, CAPAC Chair Rep. Judy Chu said she was committed to working to get the legislation passed in the House by the end of the year. “With so many of these veterans in their twilight years, it is urgent that we move swiftly to grant these veterans with the long-overdue benefits and recognition they earned decades ago through their valiant service,” Chu said.

“America’s [WWII] victory was due in large part to the diverse communities across the country that answered the call to serve,” said CAPAC Whip Rep. Mark Takano in a statement. “This bill honors the tremendous sacrifices made by Filipino veterans and I call on my colleagues to follow the Senate’s lead and send this bill to the president’s desk.”