Chapter Four: The Long Road to Equity

2017

Congressional Gold Medal

FilVetRep campaigned to recognize Filipino and American veterans of WWII.

In June 2014, a new national effort was launched. The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), led by General Antonio Taguba, assembled a group of advocates. They campaigned to recognize Filipino veterans of World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM). First awarded to George Washington in 1776, the CGM is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress.

The front and back of the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM).

The CGM campaign was not about winning citizenship rights or veterans benefits. It was about recognition. The medal would establish beyond doubt something that many Americans either denied or did not fully understand: the crucial role that Filipino servicemembers—without regard to race, nationality, or duty status—had played in the history of the United States.

Members of the FilVetREP team led by Gen. Taguba, meet with a congressional staff to secure support for the Congressional Gold Medal legislation. Also in photo are Marie Blanco (left) and Sonny Busa (right). Jon Melegrito

Oral History

Physically I receive the medal, but those who had passed were with me, deep in my heart.

Rey Cabacar, WWII Veteran

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A view of the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Oct 25, 2017 at the Emancipation Hall, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. Les Talusan
Mr. Celestino Almeda, USAFFE WWII veteran meets House Speaker Paul Ryan at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Oct 25, 2017. Emancipation Hall, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. Les Talusan
Filipino World War II veterans are honored during the Congressional Gold Medal awards ceremony on Oct. 25, 2017. Les Talusan
Key leaders of U.S. Congress honor the Filipino veterans of WWII with the Congressional Gold Medal on Oct 25, 2017, at the Emancipation Hall, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
speaker.gov

Senator Mazie Hirono (HI) called the CGM movement “the culmination of decades of work by these veterans and their families to recognize their key role in the Allied victory.” At a time of national political conflict, bipartisan support developed rapidly. Representatives Joe Heck (NV) and Tulsi Gabbard (HI) joined Senator Hirono and Senator Dean Heller (NV) as co-sponsors.

Celestino Almeda receives a standing ovation from congressional leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dean Heller, Sen. Mazie Hirono, Cong. Joe Heck and Cong. Tulsi Gabbard. Les Talusan

Mazie Hirono

November 3, 1947 –

U.S. Senator and co-sponsor of Congressional Gold Medal Act

The first Asian-American women to serve in the Senate, Mazie Hirono sponsored the bill awarding WWII Filipino veterans the Congressional Gold Medal. Hirono’s grandparents immigrated to Hawai’i from Japan to work on sugar plantations. Though Mazie Hirono would be born in Japan in 1947, her mother moved her family back to Hawai’i in 1955. Before joining the senate in 2012, Hirono served in the House of Representatives for six years. In addition to the Congressional Gold Medal, Hirono championed an immigration bill, the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, that sought to reunited Filipino WWII veterans with their children or other family members.

The FilVetREP team worked with Senator Hirono and Representative Gabbard to craft the bill, walking the halls of the House and Senate to gather legislators’ votes. Congress passed the bill on November 30, 2016. In one of his last acts in office, President Barack Obama signed it into law on December 14, 2016. An additional executive order also provided for the caretaking of elderly veterans, who were temporarily permitted to sponsor family members to migrate from the Philippines to the U.S. to be with them in their old age.

President Barack Obama shakes hand with veteran Jesse Baltazar. American Coalition of Filipino Veterans

The Congressional Gold Medal was officially awarded on October 25, 2017, at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Veterans, several of them over 100 years old, were honored at the event. Others were honored at more than 70 ceremonies convened across the country and in the Philippines.

Major General Tony Taguba, U.S. Army Retired presented the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino World War II Veteran Jose Cadisal. Les Talusan

Oral History

When my name was called I raised my hand, and yelled as loud as I could, 'Here!'

Ciriaco Ladines, WWII Veteran

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By 2020, more than 2,500 bronze replica editions of the CGM had been awarded to veterans and their survivors. These medals do not repeal the Rescission Act—which is still on the books today. They do not make up for 75 years of injustice. The medals recognize the wartime service of more than 200,000 men and women. They preserve the Filipino veterans’ legacy, and write their stories into history, before it is too late.

The CGM bestowed by the U.S Congress to Filipino Veterans, in recognition of their services during World War II. Philippine Veterans Affairs Office

Oral History

It's a reminder that nothing is given to us. We have to fight for justice.

Marlan Maralit, Activist

The Fight for Recognition

The medal recognizes the service of 200,000+ men and women and preserves Filipino veterans’ legacy.

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The Fight Continues

As the last living veterans of World War II pass away, their sacrifice and struggles must not be forgotten.

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