1945 – 1946
U.S. law promised those in “active service” of the U.S. Armed Forces certain rights and benefits.
During the Second World War, nearly 24 million men and women of all races, genders, and nationalities served in uniform under the American flag. U.S. law promised those in “active service” of the U.S. Armed Forces certain rights and benefits. To start with, there was pay—at equal rates without regard to race or nationality.
Propaganda poster depicting the Philippine resistance movement. U.S. National Archives
Next there was citizenship: According to the Nationality Act of 1940, immigrant soldiers had the right to be naturalized as U.S. citizens. Health care and hospitalization were promised to veterans with injuries or disabilities that had resulted from their service. Widows and other survivors were entitled to pensions to support them after the death of a U.S. servicemember.
USAFFE medics treat an 18-year-old guerrilla. U.S. National Archives
Finally, veterans who qualified for the GI Bill could access job training, housing benefits, and support for college education. Having triumphed in war, Americans felt they owed a great deal to their veterans. But not to all of them.
A veteran and his wife look at plans and dream about their future in their new home financed by loans guaranteed to returning veterans. Defense Council Records, Oregon State Archives
“Service in USAFFE IS service in the Armed Forces of the United States.”
Dr. Chris Capozzola, Historian, Professor at M.I.T.
Most of the 200,000 Filipinos who fought under the American flag did not risk their lives because they necessarily wanted to become U.S. citizens, or even because they wanted to get benefits. But like soldiers and sailors everywhere, they had earned them. Or so they believed.
Major General Jens Doe inspects the warriors of a guerrilla band under the command of Alejandro Surez at Jolo Island. U.S. National Archives
Filipino and American soldiers shake hands. U.S. National Archives
As the war was coming to an end, Filipinos who fought in the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) soon found obstacles and roadblocks to accessing the rights and benefits to which they were entitled.
Philippine soldiers in the USAFFE listen to a debriefing. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers
Many wanted to claim U.S. citizenship to connect with family members in North America or to seek better jobs in America’s thriving economy. But when they knocked on the doors of U.S. government offices, they were told that officers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were nowhere to be found. Thus, no naturalization ceremonies could take place. In fact, decades later, evidence would emerge that the INS officer in Manila had been deliberately withdrawn just after the end of the war. Fear of immigrants outweighed promises made in the early days of the war.
Aug 4, 1942, a New Jersey Federal Judge administers the oath of allegiance to 14 members of the Philippine Scouts, wounded at Bataan, at a naturalization ceremony at Fort Dix, New Jersey. New Jersey Almanac
Guerrillas who had spent years living in the jungles without paper or even ink met bureaucrats who demanded written proof of their service. Those who had served under a false name to protect themselves and their families could not document their service. Some, especially those who were illiterate or poor, were taken advantage of by “fixers” who collected bribes and attempted to influence U.S. and Philippine officials.
A mixed band of Filipino guerrillas from a variety of backgrounds. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers
USAFFE veteran Magdaleno Duenas was awarded $67,000 in a civil suit for being beaten, fed with dog food and chained to a bed post by a fraudulent operator who brought him to America from the Philippines. The award was never collected (1990s). Filipino World War II Soldiers: America's Second-Class Veterans by Rick Rocamora
Others found their guerrilla units were not officially recognized by the U.S. military, which had the final say over which units would be recorded for history. While U.S. Army officials maintained an official roster of recognized guerrillas, the classified document was not released to guerrilla veterans who could have used that information to advance their legal claims.
The confidential U.S. guerrilla roster. U.S. National Archives
During the war, the U.S. government had clearly declared its obligation to the men and women who served. But Americans, eager to put the war behind them, had little interest in making good on their obligations. And in the first days after the war, facing racism and xenophobia, Filipino veterans found it hard to collect on those debts.
“Anti-Filipino feelings flare up in raids.” Cynthia Mejia-Giudici
USAFFE guerrillas on the steps of the Pampanga Capitol. U.S. National Archives
Americans had little interest in making good on their obligations to Filipinos.