By Mike BañosSeven three years after the end of World War II, 15 Filipino veterans finally got their long awaited recognition from the United States Government through the conferment of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.
The Congressional Gold Medal (bestowed by the US Congress) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (bestowed by the US President) are the highest civilian awards in the United States. The US Congress passed the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act in November 2016 and President Obama signed the bill into law in December of the same year.
A Congressional Gold Medal is designed by the United States Mint to specifically commemorate the person and achievement for which the medal is awarded. Medals are therefore different in appearance, and there is no standard design. Congressional Gold Medals are considered non-portable, meaning that they are not meant to be worn on a uniform or other clothing, but rather displayed.
“I was part of the group that worked for this when I was at (Washington) DC working at our embassy. I remembered when we started it was June 24, 2014, and two years later in 2016, it was approved. It was a very difficult job, we had to get 2/3 of the US Congress. Two thirds of the House, and 2/3 of the Senate,” said Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana in his testimonial during the occasion.“There are 260, 183 Filipino World War II veterans who are recognized by the US Army as WW2 veterans. That number of medals would be produced eventually, by the US Mint to be given to the surviving veterans themselves or members of their family,” he noted.
The medals were awarded to the 15 veterans, two of them posthumously by Tracey A. Betts, Director of the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the US Embassy in Manila. They were led by Pvt. Marianito R. Quidet, the oldest at 101 years old, and Sgt. Isabel C. Manuel, the only woman awardee and the youngest at 91 years old. (Please see sidebar for complete list of the 15 awardees)
The VA is a federal Cabinet-level agency that provides near-comprehensive healthcare services to eligible military veterans at VA medical centers and outpatient clinics located throughout the country; non-healthcare benefits including disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans, and life insurance; and provides burial and memorial benefits to eligible veterans and family members at 135 national cemeteries.“I am honored and privileged to have this opportunity to share these medals with our well worthy veterans,” said Betts, whose grandfather fought with the Allied Forces in Europe, father a Korean War Vet, her husband a Vietnam Vet, a son a Persian Gulf Vet, and a grandson who just graduated from the US Army boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“I have a passion for what I do for the past 35 years in the VA. I’m here today to stand before you to say thank you for your service and for the honor that you have bestowed on me to be a part of your ceremony,” Betts added.
In the sidelines of the awarding rites, Brig. Gen. Restituto L. Aguilar, Chief of the Veterans Memorial and Historical Division of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) said this was the fourth time in the Philippines the US Congressional Gold Medal was being awarded.
The first time was in the US Embassy in Manila last Sept 13th with 13 awardees; the second at the Philippine Military Academy last October 27th with 28 awardees; the third at Lingayen last November 15th with 36 awardees, and November 27th in Cagayan de Oro with 15 awardees.“Most of the awardees were living, for them to take advantage of the late recognition by the US Congress,” Aguilar said. “This is given to all World War II veterans who served in the war.”
"There were 260,183 recognized veterans after the war. And hopefully we can give each one of them, but that will be a long period because we cannot even attain 1,000 awardees per year. So even if we did, it will take us 260 years to give medals to all of them. That’s how long and difficult the process is,” he explained.
The awarding of the US Congressional Gold Medal to the 15 Filipino WW2 veterans was the highlight of the day-long VETERANS EVENT 2018 hosted by the PHIVIDEC Industrial Authority.
“This is the first time an event of this magnitude is being held in Mindanao and Phividec is proud to have sponsored it, “ said Jesus S. Guevera, chairman of the PHIVIDEC-IA. “It is an honor to the distinguished veterans, and retired officers, men and women of the AFP, who dedicated the most productive years of their lives, in defense of our peace and freedom.”
“We at the Phividec Industrial Authority are more than happy to be part of this solemn event by providing the monetary support, to procure the initial 4,000 bronze replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal at the US Mint for the awarding of the Filipino veterans, and their families, who waited all these years, for the US and its Congress to recognize their wartime accomplishments and services to the US during WW2.”
Franklin M. Quijano, Administrator and CEO of PHIVIDEC-IA, said Phividec Veterans’ Day was created by Maj. Gen. Romeo D. Alamillo (Ret). “ Phividec under RA 532 is obliged to give 50% to the national government, (P115M net of VAT, tax, etc) and is supporting Veterans Welfare in coordination with the PVAO , Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) and other allied government agencies.
Despite their efforts, Aguilar admitted the main constraint preventing PVAO from awarding the medals at a faster rate is the lack of records for many of the veterans.“Posthumous awardees are recommended by the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) and also the US Veterans Affairs, because the conditions are they have served in a high position during or after the war, and have received a high military decoration during the war. One of our awardees today got the US Silver Star,” Aguilar said.
“Our priorities now are the living veterans, for them also to savor the glory of being honored while they are still alive. For instance in Lingayen, we had two awardees who passed away while their names were still being verified against extant records. So we did not remove their names from the list anymore. It’s my office which does the planning, research and everything. So when we came here, we brought the medals and the manuscript of the presenter is already done.”
Aguilar said local historians and World War II history buffs can help expedite the proper identification of potential awardees by sharing with PVAO their research results.
“You know there are very few Filipino authors on World War 2. Most of the books that were published after the war and even up to this time were written by Americans and from the point of view of the Americans,” he noted.
“We would like to have books that are written by Filipinos, from the point of view of Filipinos. Because the dirty works have been given to Filipinos, but the victory was claimed by the Americans,” Aguilar stressed.
In concluding his testimonial, Lorenzana quoted US House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tribute to the Filipino veterans of WW2 during the first US Congressional Gold Medal awarding in the US:
“They battled not only the enemies, but they battled starvation, and malnutrition. But they never lost sight of the cause, and they never accepted defeat. It is in the spirit of heroism and patriotism that I welcome you all today.”
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