Fourth of July is the time when people celebrate our independence and salute those who fought and died for this country. Yet, Americans seldom pause to honor Filipino veterans. Their service is invisible. Why is that?
The Philippines was a Commonwealth of the United States from 1935 to 1946. As Philippine nationals, they were able to travel back and forth to the United States. With mounting tensions with Japan increasing, on July 26, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt called into U.S. military service all Philippine organized military forces, namely: the Philippine Scouts, Philippine Constabulary, New Philippine Scouts, Philippine Commonwealth Army, and Recognized Guerilla Units. These units served under the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE).
In the continental United States, five months later, President Roosevelt signed a law on December 20, 1941 allowing Filipinos in the United States to enlist in the Armed Forces. This lead to the formation of the 1st and 2nd Filipino infantry regiments. A total of more than 260,000 Filipinos and Filipino American soldiers fought in WWII under the American flag. In 1946, the U.S. Congress passed the racist Rescission Act reversing President Roosevelt’s promise to Filipinos who served in the military and denying them their rightful benefits.
The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, a non-partisan, community based volunteer group sought to remedy the situation by conducting research to identify eligible Filipino and Filipino American veterans, introduce a bill to the U.S. Congress to have them recognized and have it passed. The effort is lead by Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Antonio Taguba. To date, only 18,000 or so Filipino and Filipino American veterans are still alive, living in the United States and the Philippines.
The Project met its first goal recently. On June 11, 2015 a bi-partisan bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate (S1555) and US Congress (HR2737) to recognize Filipino WWII veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal. Taguba is experienced in leading such efforts having chaired the Committee responsible for obtaining the Congressional Gold Medals for Japanese American soldiers.
On June 23, Region 8 the local Project chapter, lead by Brigadier General Oscar B. Hilman (U.S.Army Retired) convened a Seattle gathering to build local support for the Project. The gathering was co-hosted by leaders from The Philippine Scouts Heritage Society Calugas Chapter, the Filipino American Historical Society Greater Seattle Chapter, the Filipino Community Alliance, and the Bataan Corregidor Survivors Association.
After receiving a briefing, greater Puget Sound Filipino and Filipino American leaders were asked to spread the word about the project and obtain political support from Washington state’s U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators. For more information, contact Thelma Sevilla at [email protected] and [email protected].