Chapter Four: The Long Road to Equity

2009

Bittersweet Victory

“It is about time we close this dark chapter,” Senator Inouye said in a speech.

Veterans took another step closer to victory in 2009. In the midst of a financial crisis, Congress sought to address Americans hard-hit by the economic downturn. Among them were Filipino World War II veterans who still could not access veteran pensions, health care, and survivor benefits due to the restrictions imposed by the Rescission Act.

A veteran holds a sign reading, “Give us justice before we die.” Honolulu Advertiser

Veterans’ longtime supporters Senator Daniel Inouye (HI) and Senator Daniel Akaka (HI) were now joined by Representative Robert Filner (CA) and others. Congress was finally beginning to see the crucial importance of winning equity before the World War II generation passed on. “It is about time we close this dark chapter,” Senator Inouye said in a speech. “The honor of the United States is what is involved.”

The wreath laying ceremony on Bataan day at the U.S. National World War II Memorial. Jon Melegrito

Daniel Inouye

September 7, 1924 – December 17, 2012

Senator, decorated military veteran, and advocate for equality

Daniel Inouye was the only U.S. senator to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the Senate, Daniel Inouye championed legislation that sought equity for Filipino veterans. Alongside his Chief of Staff Marie Blanco, he introduced bills to repeal the Rescission Act in every congress for 18 years. In 2009, Inouye was instrumental in the inclusion of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund provision. During WWII, Inouye lost his right arm while serving in one of the most highly decorated military units in U.S. history, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. After returning home to Hawai’i, Inouye turned to politics. In 1959, he was elected to Congress, becoming the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1962, Inouye became the first Japanese American to serve as a U.S. Senator, a position he held until his death in 2012.

Acting together with community organizations and experienced legislative specialists, a coalition on Capitol Hill pushed to include Filipino veterans benefits in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February 2009.

Senator Daniel Inouye with veterans. Bing Branigin

Marie Blanco

Political leader and advocate for Filipino veterans

For over three decades, Marie Blanco tirelessly pushed for legislation that would provide justice and equity for Filipino veterans. Born and raised in Hawai’i to immigrants from the Philippines, Blanco was hired by Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye in 1978. There she worked her way up the ranks, eventually becoming Inouye’s Chief of Staff for his Washington, D.C. office. After the Supreme Court ruled against Filipino veterans seeking benefits denied by the Rescission Act, Blanco approached Inouye with the idea of seeking justice through congressional legislation. They would introduce bills to repeal the Rescission Act in every Congress for eighteen years and were one of the driving forces behind the 2009 Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. Marie currently serves as a Vice Chair of FilVetREP, where she was instrumental in procuring congressional support for the passage of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act.

Equity at Last

More Animations

The law awarded a one-time lump-sum payment to eligible surviving veterans in the U.S. or the Philippines. The new law also recognized that service in USAFFE was, indeed, service “in” the U.S. armed forces. This was something the U.S. government had denied for 63 years, ever since the passage of the Rescission Act in 1946.

Ben Acohido with WWII veterans from the First Filipino Infantry Regiment. U.S. Navy

Oral History

Marie Blanco discusses the equity bill and her role in getting it passed

Marie Blanco, Vice Chair of FilVetREP, Former Chief-of-Staff to Senator Daniel Inouye

The Struggle for Benefits

Equity was a bittersweet victory. For the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans still living, the payment compensated for benefits they had earned on the battlefield sixty years earlier but had not received, and represented an important recognition of their service.

“Filipino veterans are the first in line at Bank of America to withdraw their monthly SSI checks, often times they're down to their last few cents at the end of the month.” America's Second-Class Veterans by Rick Rocamora

For many it was too little: the law left the Rescission Act on the books. The demanding qualification standards and short timelines proved challenging. Many veterans could not provide the necessary paperwork so many years later, and courts rejected their appeals. For veterans who had passed away, it was not only too little, but too late.

Demetrio Carino fought in the battle of Dalton Pass during the war. He wrote letters to all members of Congress, lobbying for the passage of the Veterans Equity Act. Filipino World War II Soldiers: America's Second-Class Veterans by Rick Rocamora

Oral History

What is 15,000 dollars worth to a 96 year old veteran having waited almost 70 years?

Antonio Taguba, Major General (Retired), Chairman of FilVetREP

The Struggle for Benefits

More than 48,000 veterans filed claims before the deadline in February 2010. Their supporters, including a new advocate, retired U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba, and Philippine Army retired Major General Delfin Lorenzana, pressed the VA and the National Personnel Records Center for documents that would help veterans prove their eligibility.

Antonio M. Taguba, Major General, U.S. Army (Retired), Chairman of FilVetRep. FilVetRep

Antonio Taguba

October 31, 1950 –

Retired U.S. Army Major General and Chairman of FilVetREP

A retired major general in the U.S. Army, Taguba spearheaded the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project’s (FilVetREP) campaign to award WWII Filipino Veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal. Taguba, who was born in Manila, has a personal connection to the campaign he helped lead: his father, Tomas Taguba, was a soldier in USAFFE’s 57th Infantry Regiment and survived the Bataan Death March. After retiring, Taguba, who spent nearly four decades in the Army, became increasingly active in Filipino and Asian American organizations. Most importantly, Taguba set out to build a national grassroots organization that advocates for the recognition that his father and other Filipino veterans of WWII had been denied. Since the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded, Taguba has travelled to numerous locations throughout the U.S. to award Congressional Gold Medals to veterans or their family members.

Taguba’s efforts led the U.S. National Archives to release the Army’s official guerrilla roster, filed away since 1949. Ultimately, the U.S. government awarded over 18,000 claims, about half in the United States and half in the Philippines. That was less than 10 percent of the 200,000 veterans who served during World War II.

The U.S. Guerrilla Roster was one of the sole deciding elements used to approve benefits applications. It was discovered that it had many inconsistencies, misnamed individuals and incomplete tallies. U.S. National Archives

Oral History

She applied for the benefits and was denied by 3 levels of courts.

Antonio Taguba, Major General (Retired), Chairman of FilVetREP

Explore More Interviews with Taguba

For veterans and their advocates, this was a time to celebrate. But the fight to honor the veterans continued. Many wanted to share their experiences and rewrite America’s history books for future generations, so their stories would be remembered, and this injustice never repeated.

Baltazar and granddaughter. Melchior Baltazar

Many wanted to write their stories into America’s history books for future generations.

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2017

Congressional Gold Medal

A new national effort was launched to award Filipino veterans with the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. government.

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