Day of Valor: Honoring Service, Sacrifice and Duty to Country
Jon Melegrito via FilVetREP
For Immediate Release
April 9, 2020
Contact: Jon Melegrito
Filipino World War ll Veterans, from left, Justino de Lara, Potenciano Dee, Celestino Almeda and Rey Cabacar at a Bataan Day Commemoration (“Araw ng Kagitingan”) on April 9, 2018 at the National World War ll Memorial. Their personal stories are among the many oral histories included in a web-based, digital interactive educational program called “Duty to Country,” which will be launched in October this year.
April 9, 2020
“As we mark the 78th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor, let’s renew our commitment to tell the story of a great generation of men and women who fought long and hard in a world war in the Philippines, where thousands died and were wounded for life,” says FilVetREP National Chairman Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret.) “We must not let America forget the service and sacrifice of the more than 260,000 soldiers who fought under the American flag to defend our freedom and our way of life. They waited over 70 years to be recognized. We must now tell their story of duty to country to ensure that generations of Americans will never forget what they fought and died for. We owe them an eternal debt of gratitude.”
On April 9 and May 6, 1942, over 72,000 Filipino and American soldiers surrendered to Japanese Imperial Forces and were forced to march for over 65 miles to prison camps in the Philippines. In the infamous Bataan Death March, approximately 10,000 Filipino and 700 American soldiers died.
Instead of being recognized, however, Filipino soldiers faced discrimination and injustice after the war. The Rescission Acts of 1946 passed by Congress denied them the rightful benefits promised by the President of the United States – benefits that were never restored despite efforts by grassroots advocacy groups.
On December 14, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Filipino Veterans of World War II Act (Public Law 114-265). This seminal, historic event in American history was the culmination of 75 years of their perseverance, and support from Congress to recognize the Filipino Veterans for their courageous and selfless service in defending the United States and the Philippines from 1941 to 1946. The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the nation’s highest distinguished awards bestowed to individuals, institutions or groups that have performed outstanding achievement that has an impact on American history and culture.
In October 2017, the U.S. Congress formally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Filipino Veterans of World War II and their families at the Emancipation Hall in Capitol Hill. Since that historic moment, more than 1,800 medals have been awarded at more than 60 ceremonies in the U.S. and three in the Philippines.
With the first phase of FilVetREP’s mission almost completed, FilVetREP’s task now is to develop a national education program of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015. Called “Duty to Country,” the Congressional Gold Medal will be the centerpiece of this program. FilVetREP plans to launch it in October this year. “We have a great opportunity to maintain their relevance in American history and preserve their legacy for generations,” Taguba said.
“Duty to Country” is a compelling yet largely untold story of Filipinos who fought and served under the American flag during WWII and labored tirelessly for decades after, striving for recognition and benefits promised by the U.S. It will showcase a rich archive of compelling first-hand stories told by the last of the living veterans, their families, activists and historians. The archive will provide access to highlights, full interviews and searchable transcripts.
“The medal is not just a piece of metal,” Taguba says. “It symbolizes the bravery and courage of Filipino and American soldiers who fought under the American flag and made the ultimate sacrifice. Their stories are deeply moving and compelling. They need to be enshrined in American history and preserved for posterity so the next generation of Americans will learn what happened not only during the war, but after the war.”
As it does every year, FilVetREP and the Philippine Embassy scheduled a Bataan Day commemoration today at the National World War II memorial. This event, including the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico, were cancelled due to the coronavirus.