Barbara Kim Stanton
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Domingo Los Banos, a Hawai‘i-born World War II veteran, fought in the Philippines, serving in the U.S. Army 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment.
Now 92 and living in a retirement home, Los Banos laments that the nurses from the Philippines who care for him do not know of the sacrifices that he and other Filipino veterans made so that they can enjoy the freedoms they have today.
His voice rises with emotion and a flash of anger.
“They have no idea what the hell happened,” he said.
On Oct. 25, Congress is doing something to recognize the World War II Filipino veterans. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will present the veterans the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow. Hawai‘i U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono sponsored the bill to award the gold medal and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sponsored it in the House.
The ceremony allows the Filipino veterans to finally get the thank you from our country that the Nisei soldiers, Navajo Code Talkers, Tuskegee Airmen and other ethnic World War II warriors have already received.
The honor comes even as some of them who served in the Philippine military and as guerillas are still waiting for full veterans benefits.
“It has been a very long journey,” Hirono said. “They answered the call to fight alongside our U.S. troops.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio “Tony” Taguba, who grew up in Wahiawä and is the son of a Philippine Scout, said the stories of the bravery and sacrifice of the Filipino veterans are not widely known.
He cites Corporal Magdalena Leones, a woman guerrilla, who was one of only five women awarded the Silver Star in World War II. Leones learned to speak Japanese in a prison camp and after her release, collected information on Japanese units, passing the information to Allied forces and smuggling medical supplies behind enemy lines.
Her family told Taguba that no veterans showed up at Leones’ funeral service.
Some of the soldiers receiving the medal served in military intelligence, alongside Japanese American translators. They served in the infantry, on Navy ships, as guerillas and in the Philippine military.
Taguba, who chairs the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, wants to collect their stories and preserve them so that their descendants will know what they did.
But first they have to identify the veterans and make sure that the surviving veterans and survivors of deceased veterans get the honor they are due.
Taguba urged the Filipino veterans and the family members of the veterans to register for the Congressional Gold Medal on the FilVetRep.org website. That starts the process of verifying their eligibility for the medal. Once verified, the veterans and surviving family members who cannot make it to Washington, D.C., will be presented a bronze replica of the medal at ceremonial dinners to be held throughout the country, including in Hawai‘i.
AARP is a supporter of the project and is helping to pay for the replica medals.
“We want to know where you are,” Taguba said. “We want to be sure you get your recognition.”
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Barbara Kim Stanton has been the state director of AARP Hawaii since 2005. She writes about living a life of real possibilities, where age is not a limit and experience equals wisdom.