The U.S. Senate this week passed a bill to award more than 260,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, including 300 from Hawaii, the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award that Congress can bestow, according to Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, the author of the legislation.
Retired Army Col. Ben Acohido, who is part of a national effort to complete a census determining the exact number of surviving Filipino veterans, estimates that little more than a dozen are still living in Hawaii.
Congress has already recognized the wartime contributions of other minority military units with eligibility for the medal beginning with Tuskegee Airmen in 2006; Navajo Code Talkers in 2008; Women Air Force Service Pilots of WWII (WASP) 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 the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, in 2014 — the only Hispanic, segregated military unit in the Korean War whose soldiers were predominately from Puerto Rico.
Hirono said, in a written statement Wednesday: “These veterans were instrumental to an Allied victory in the Pacific theater, but their fight didn’t end with the war. For decades, they have continued to fight for the benefits they have earned and to be reunited with their families in the United States.
The Senate legislation, which must pass the House before it can be sent to President Obama for approval, was supported by a bipartisan coalition of 71 senators including Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who said: “Filipino World War II veterans served and sacrificed alongside American forces and played an important role in the Allied victory. I have spent my career fighting to ensure they receive the recognition and benefits they deserve. While we can never fully repay the debt we owe these brave soldiers, Congress can pay tribute to their courage by awarding them with the Congressional Gold Medal. Granting Filipino veterans this honor will be yet another step taken in correcting past wrongs and celebrating their heroic actions and the patriotism of their community.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a 1968 Leilehua High School graduate and chair of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, added in a written statement: “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. We deeply appreciate Senator Hirono’s steadfast leadership and dedication to the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans and their families who made this day possible. The veterans will surely be proud.”
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.
Acohido added: “The Congressional Gold Medal will preserve the history of service and sacrifice by these loyal Filipino WWII veterans. 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,” said Ben Acohido, Service Officer, VFW Post 1572 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army, Veterans of Foreign Wars-Hawaii Chapter.
Most of the survivors are in their 90s and supporters continue to fight for U.S. fulfillment of promised pensions and health benefits.
Hirono has continued the congressional battle to restore pensions and benefits begun by Sens. Spark Matsunaga, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, including including reuniting these veterans who were granted U.S. citizenship in the 1990s in recognition of their service, with their children who were not.