Filipino war veterans to receive US Congressional Gold Medal

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill authored by Sen. Mazie Hirono to make it possible for more than 260,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, to receive the highest civilian award that Congress can bestow — the Congressional Gold Medal.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, author of a companion measure in the U.S. House, said she hopes to gather enough support to send the legislation to President Barack Obama before the end of the year.

“More than 200,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers responded to President Roosevelt’s call to duty and fought under our American flag during World War II,” Gabbard said. “With just 18,000 Filipino WWII veterans alive today, time is truly of the essence to honor these courageous men with the long overdue recognition they deserve. We’ve made tremendous progress over the past year to gather bipartisan support from lawmakers for this legislation.”

Congress has already recognized the wartime contributions of other minority military units with eligibility for the medal beginning with the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006; Navajo Code Talkers in 2008; Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, in 2009; the Japanese-American soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service in 2010; the Montford Point Marines, who were the first African-Americans to serve in the Marine Corps, in 2011; and in 2014, the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers — the only Hispanic, segregated military unit in the Korean War whose soldiers were predominantly from Puerto Rico.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a 1968 Leilehua High School graduate and chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project said: “Filipino World War II veterans served their country with distinct honor and uncommon valor and we owe them a profound debt of gratitude. I am proud that with the Senate’s unanimous passage of the Filipino World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, the veterans are significantly closer on their lifelong goal of national recognition of sacrifice and selfless service during World War II from the U.S. Congress. They have waited 75 years for this proud and historic milestone in American history.”

Taguba’s father, Tomas, survived the 65-mile Bataan Death March in 1942, retired as a sergeant first class in 1962, and lived in Hawaii until his death.

Most of the survivors are in their 90s and supporters continue to fight for U.S. fulfillment of promised pensions and health benefits.

The Congressional Gold Medal will preserve the history of service and sacrifice by these loyal Filipino WWII veterans,” Acohido said. “They were the first line of defense in the Pacific, providing valuable time for the American military to marshal its forces when the outcome of the war was still in question. We are now hopeful for the bill’s passage in the U.S. House.” The Honolulu Star-Advertiser ? by Gregg K. Kakesako

Updated: 2016-09-03 — 18:59:36