HOUSTON – On Saturday, 25 Filipino veterans who waited decades to be recognized for their sacrifice were honored for their service to the United States in the World War II.
The surviving veterans and the next-of-kin of those who are deceased received Congressional Gold Medals -- one of the highest civilian awards Congress can bestow on a person or group of people who had a significant impact on U.S. culture.
More than 260,000 Filipinos fought for the United States in World War II.
“They served their country. They died for their country. So, this is about duty to country worth dying for,” said Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a Filipino and a retired U.S. Army Officer.
Many of the surviving Filipino veteran families worried their families’ sacrifices in the war would be forgotten.
“The fact that the Philippines was under the American flag up until 1946 is lost on a lot of people -- that they fought in World War II under the American flag,” said Christy Poisot, Region 7 Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project director.
By the call of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, these Filipinos were alongside 260,000 who fought in the Pacific to defend American freedom in WWII.
Faye Sampilo's father, Benny DeLeon Sampilo, was a military policeman who went to the Philippines from California to fight with the U.S. His efforts would win him the prestigious WWII Victory Medal. Faye carried his picture.
“I just feel like he’s around now -- I’m getting to be emotional,” Sampilo said.
The Sampilos have been waiting for this moment for 75 years.
“Congress in 1946 passed a Rescission Act,” Taguba said. “It did two things to them. One, it took away their dignity and their honor, by declaring they were not in active duty, thereby they were not entitled to receive their benefits … and it also took away their U.S. nationality, even though they were part of the U.S. as a colony.”
The act devastated these Filipino families.
"Although [President Harry] Truman had to issue the Rescission Act after the war, people do not understand the impact of that on the community because a lot of people lost their citizenship and their benefits ... As (Filipino veterans') families migrated and their children grew older, they didn't have pension. They didn't have a legacy to leave for their children," Poisot said.
For years, many veterans felt that their sacrifices were forgotten.
“When a country that you fought for takes away your dignity and your honor after serving and dying and being wounded in combat for 4.5 years like my dad, what else can we do for them? It’s not about money, even though that helps. It’s about restoring the title that they originally deserved,” Taguba said.
Maria Rita Rivera Jante's father, Alberto Rivera, served as a member of the Philippine Commonwealth Army in the service of the Armed Forces of the U.S. from Dec. 26, 1941, to Oct. 10, 1945. He survived the Bataan Death March, in which more than 60,000 Filipinos marched alongside Americans more than 70 miles to a POW camp. The ceremony Saturday brought overwhelming joy.
“It means a lot,” said Jante, near tears. “I’m sure (my father) is up there looking at us. Smiling ... He's a hero in the Philippines and a hero in our family.”
For the two surviving veterans at the ceremony, Moises Hortaleza and Eduardo Javelosa, who both faced life-threatening battles, it was a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives.
“I appreciate the honor that has been given to me for the service I have done,” Javelosa said.
The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project aims to collect photos and stories in order to preserve and educate others about Filipinos contributions to history and preserve those veterans’ history.
"We are gathering the stories, the artifacts, the oral histories, and compiling them in a repository to create a narrative and hollistic timeline, which we will be able to collect the body of history that puts Filipino Americans not only in a solid place not only in history books, but the school history books," Poisot said.
For more info on the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, click link here.