On a cloudy Tuesday afternoon near the front entrance of his apartment at ‘Ilima at Leihano in Kapolei, Domingo Los Banos pointed to a black-and-white photo of 16 World War II soldiers from California and Hawaii.
At the center of the photo is a young Los Banos, who was 19 years old when he joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment.
One of the youngest soldiers in the unit, he was part of the mop-up operations in the Philippines in 1945.
Among the 16 soldiers in the photo, Los Banos, now 92, said he is the last survivor.
“I’m the only guy alive,” he said.
Los Banos is one of more than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-
American veterans of World War II who were collectively honored for their bravery with the Congressional Gold Medal — the nation’s highest civilian award by Congress — nearly
75 years after the conclusion of the war.
Because many like Los Banos were unable to attend the ceremony held in October at the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall in Washington D.C., regional ceremonies are being held nationwide by the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project to present bronze replicas
of the medal to veterans and their families.
Abelina Madrid Shaw, deputy chairwoman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project’s Region 11, which covers Hawaii, Alaska and American Samoa, said costly travel expenses and the
distance to the East Coast for veterans from Hawaii were challenging. “It was too prohibitive.”
On Sunday, Los Banos will be among more than 35 Filipino WWII veterans and
100 next of kin to be presented with bronze replicas of the medals at a 6:30 p.m. sold-out ceremony at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort Coral Ballroom.
Event coordinators had originally planned to hold the ceremony at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu, but changed
to a larger venue to accommodate the more than
700 guests expected.
Gov. David Ige, Hawaii’s congressional leaders and President Barack Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, are among the guests expected to attend. In December 2016, Obama signed a measure into law that collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to more than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-
American soldiers who responded to the call of duty under President Franklin Roosevelt and fought during World War II.
Filipino veterans honored with the medal served in the U.S. Army between July 26, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946, under the command of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, Philippine Commonwealth Army, Philippine Scouts, Philippine Constabulary, Recognized Guerrilla unit, New Philippine Scouts, 1st Filipino Regiment, 2nd Filipino Regiment, 2nd Filipino Infantry Battalion (Separate) and 1st Reconnaissance
Some of the Filipino soldiers were secretly sent to the Philippines by submarine in 1942 to serve as Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s eyes and ears as Allies prepared to retake the Pacific nation from Japan.
About 300 from Hawaii from the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments were sent to the Philippines to serve under MacArthur.
Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba; Army Maj. Gen. Bryan Fenton, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command on Oahu; and Rear Adm. Victorino Mercado, director of maritime operations of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, are expected
to present the medals, which were produced by the U.S. mint, to veterans and next of kin at the ceremony.
The actual gold medal is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Over the past decade, Congress bestowed eligibility of the medal to other minority military units, including the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006; Navajo Code Talkers in 2008; Women Airforce Service Pilots in 2009; Japanese-American soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service,
in 2010; Montford Point
Marines, the first African-
Americans to serve in the Marine Corps, in 2011; and the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, the only Hispanic military unit in the Korean War, with a majority of the soldiers from Puerto Rico, in 2014.
The recognition of the Filipino veterans’ courage and service is long overdue, as many veterans have died.
Today, there are about 15,000 to 18,000 surviving veterans in the U.S. and Philippines and most are in their 90s.
Los Banos, born in Wahiawa, had been attending the University of Hawaii for a year when he joined the Army after his brother,
Alfred, was drafted.
Los Banos was one of about 300 soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments, which he refers to as the
“Hawaii Boys.” Today, Los Banos said he is only one of five or so remaining veterans from Hawaii.
He recalled how overwhelmed he was in the thick jungles of Samar as part of the mop-up operations against the Japanese soldiers in 1945. “I prayed to God, ‘Get me out of harm’s way and I’ll become a teacher.’”
Japan soon surrendered to the U.S.
While his four brothers pursued military careers, Los Banos pursued a career in education. He became a teacher, principal and Leeward district superintendent with the Hawaii State Department of Education.
Passionate about sharing the story of the role of Filipino forces during the war, he served as an adviser and helped raise funds for the documentary, “An Untold Triumph: America’s Filipino Soldiers.”
They played a vital part in the war, Los Banos said.
Los Banos gives recognition to the Filipino soldiers who fought in the Philippines before the arrival of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments.
His son, Todd Los Banos, said the Congressional Gold Medal is an honor for his
father and fellow veterans.
“For all of us, we’re just happy,” said his son, who plans to attend Sunday’s ceremony with his mother, Mary Los Banos, and sister, Tasniya Kawamoto.
He said his father’s “greatest purpose” is to promote the recognition of Filipino World War II soldiers for their service and sacrifice. “Only now, they’re being recognized for that.”
From serving his country in the war to serving the community as an educator, Los Banos’ life is centered on serving others, his son added.
Spry and persistent, Los Banos continues to pursue his goal of educating the public about the history of Filipino World War II veterans.
He currently serves as a member of the Filipino Veterans of WWII-Art Advisory Committee, where plans are underway to build a Hawaii monument to honor Filipino World War II veterans.
“There’s no way you can slow him down,” his son said.