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Significance of the Filipino Veterans’ Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

After more than seven decades, the Filipino soldiers who fought alongside the Americans during World War II were formally recognized on October 25, 2017 at a ceremony held at the U.S. Capitol. A collective Congressional Gold Medal of Honor was presented by U.S. legislators and leaders to Filipino World War II veterans and their next of kin. Considering their advanced age, very few of the Filipino veterans are around to receive the presentation. Instead, approximately 600 veterans’ families, supporters and advocates arrived and witnessed the ceremony presenting the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

The “Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015” (H.R.2737/S.B.1555) was passed into law after staunch veterans leaders push for the veterans recognition. Led by Ret.Maj. Gen. Antonio “ Tony” Taguba, the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetRep) a non profit organization, successfully advocated for the passage of a bill that will award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Filipino Veterans of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II. Maj. Gen. Taguba established the FilVetRep with grassroots organization nationwide to raise awareness of the contributions and sacrifices of our Filipino World War II Veterans.

The bill was initially introduced in both chambers of the U.S. Congress on June 11, 2015 where the lead sponsors were Representative Tulsi Gubbard and Senator Mazie Hirono both from the State of Hawaii. The Senate Bill 1555 was first approved on July 13, 2016 and the House bill was approved on November 30, 2016, by voice vote of majority of the members of the House of Representatives. With the approval of both houses, the bill was signed into law by former President Obama on December 14, 2016.

Several U.S. legislators honored and thanked the veterans during the ceremony. Speaker Paul Ryan opened the ceremony by expressing his gratitude to the Filipino World War II veterans recognizing their bravery and that these Filipinos veterans risk their lives under the U.S. flag during the war.

Long time veterans advocate and Immigration lawyer Lourdes S. Tancinco was present during the ceremony and said that the Congressional Gold Medal is symbolic of their sacrifices and a honor to all Filipino veterans, “to receive the highest award granted to civilians by the U.S. Congress is a long deserved tribute for all their sacrifices during the war and the national appreciation bestowed to them is a commendation of the highest level specially after what they have gone through historically.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a passionate speech and said that the Congressional Gold Medal is a powerful symbol of the nation’s gratitude of the valor of the Filipino veterans. “With the gold medal we present today, we are paying tribute to a selfless sacrifice. We are remembering the indomitable spirit of the Pacific people”.

One hundred year old veteran Celestino Almeda acknowledged receipt of the gold medal on behalf of all Filipino veterans. The bipartisan legislators and the few veterans seated in the audience (with more than 500 families and advocates) rose to their feet and applauded Almeda as he mentioned his age and alluded to the veterans’ continued ‘presence.’ He chanted General Douglas MacArthur’s famous quote, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away!”

(Atty. Lourdes Santos Tancinco, Esq is a partner at the Tancinco Law Offices, an immigration law firm based in San Francisco CA. She may be reached through her website www.tancinco.com, law@tancinco.com or www.facedbook.com/tancincolaw.

For more information on the Congressional Gold Medal please visit www.filvetrep.org, www.vetsequitycenter.org or email Luisa Antonio at luisa.antonio@vetsequitycenter.org)

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