By Briana Lim, AsAmNews Intern
Over 250,000 Filipinos served the United States in World War II under promises of honor and the veterans’ benefits awarded to U.S. soldiers. Many of them are over 90 years old and still waiting to be recognized.
Sergeant Pelagio Valdez is the son of a Filipino American WWII veteran. His father would be 112 years old today. Valdez made a promise to his late father to carry on the legacy of the Filipino American veterans.
“The story needs to get out. That’s why I’ve been writing on Facebook for the last ten years,” he told AsAmNews.
“[My father] told me before he passed away, to pass on the legacy, and this history, and the heritage, and the honor of the units he served with”
As WWII intensified in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt brought all military forces in the Philippines under U.S. control by presidential order. Tens of thousands of Filipinos enlisted under Roosevelt’s promise of the same veterans’ benefits given to members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
But after years of war and over a million Filipino deaths, Congress passed the Recission Act of 1946 which annulled any benefits promised to Filipino veterans and denied Filipino involvement with U.S. forces. “It explicitly barred ‘rights, privileges, or benefits’ from most Filipinos who fought,” says American Homefront.
Since then, Filipino veterans and activists have been working to remove the injustice.
Jon Melegrito is the son of a Filipino veteran, and the Executive Secretary of the Filipino Veterans Recognition Project (FilVetRep), a community based organization working to advocate for Filipino and American WWII soldiers. He was also the founding director of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and has dedicated much time to activism and lobbying.
Currently, FilVetRep is working to repeal the Recission Act in order to restore veteran benefits, as well as their legal status as American veterans.
“The biggest challenge, of course, is that not everybody in Congress is educated or aware of the service that Filipino veterans served during the war. So we have to educate them. Because many people in Congress were born after the war so they don’t have the history,” Melegrito said to AsAmNews.
FilVetRep is working to educate Americans on the service Filipino veterans provided, and the sacrifices they endured. There were over a million Filipino fatalities during the war, and Filipinos endured horrific conditions, especially during the Bataan Death March. In 1942, thousands of Filipinos and Americans were forced to march some 65 miles across the Bataan Peninsula under atrocious conditions, History reports.
“We depend on the American public to put pressure on their representatives to pass this bill,” Melegrito explains.
In the meantime, FilVetRep and other advocacy groups have been hard at work to pressure the government in providing other means of recognition.
In 2009, President Obama provided one time payments to veterans, amounting to $226 million awarded to more than 22,000 people, American Homefront reports. In 2017, Congress awarded Filipino veterans the Congressional Gold Medal.
Melegrito hopes all veterans can be recognized, “We do a massive outreach for families and next of kin. We definitely want to honor them because we don’t want to leave any veteran or their families unrecognized. That has been our main mission.”
Yet these awards can be tricky. Inadequate documentation of Filipino involvement during the war may not be comprehensive. Moreover, many veterans were denied these honors due to certain qualifications.
According to Sgt. Valdez, though the government accounts for 250,000 Filipinos that served, his father and many others were not eligible to be recognized. “The public law says that over 250,000 Filipinos served during World War II. But they only gave the medal to those who had their boots on the ground in the Philippines.”
“What about the Filipinos in ships that served right on the coast of France on D-Day? There are Coast Guard men everywhere, radio men in Alaska, some people like my dad didn’t deploy, but they served and they worked hard as part of that 250,000.”
“The rest of them were written out. They only gave the Congressional Gold Medal to the ones that actually had their boots on the ground. That’s what the issue is, the one I’m trying to fight.”
Valdez hopes another bill that honors all other Filipinos who served can be passed once the tumult of current events dies down. Additionally, Valdez hopes to rectify a small, but significant discrepancy.
“If you look at the Congressional Gold Medal, it says Filipino WWII Veterans. Now if you go look at the Chinese American WWII veterans Congressional Gold Medal, it says Chinese American.”
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