On July 26, 1941, as tensions with Japan rose in the Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called into service all of the organized military forces of the Philippines. And while more than one quarter million Filipino soldiers served in World War II, in the same manner and under the same circumstances as other members of the U.S. Armed Forces, these soldiers had not been formally honored or recognized by the United States. That changed on October 25, 2017, when Congress bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino WWII veterans in honor of their wartime service.
Ben de Guzman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project
discusses ongoing efforts to be sure every Filipino WWII veteran is honored.
Traynham: During World War II, the Philippines was a commonwealth of the United States, and more than 260,000 Filipino soldiers fought in World War II. Over 57,000 were killed in the war, thousands more wounded for life, and hundreds were missing in action. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. With me to discuss efforts to raise awareness and obtain national recognition of the Filipino-American World War II soldiers is Ben De Guzman with the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. Ben, welcome to the program.
De Guzman: Thank you for having me.
Traynham: Oftentimes -- I´m a big World War II buff, and oftentimes, when I read and see all of that footage, it´s usually the Anglo-American, you know, from Kansas, from Pennsylvania, what have you, you know, going off to fight in the war. It´s very, very rare, Ben, that I see a person of color that looks like me or a person that looks like you in those returning footage -- film footage, if you will. -
De Guzman: Right. -
Traynham: Why is that the case?
De Guzman: Well, I think, you know, it reflected the times. You know, I mean, just demographically, there were many more of those kinds of soldiers. New Mexico sent over a number of military units, actually, that did include some Latino or Hispanic soldiers, as well. But when they traveled to those different countries where the battles took place, you know, that´s where they encountered people who look like me, in your words, right? But also, there were regiments in California, Filipino-American regiments of soldiers, that were here that got deployed abroad, as well. You know, so it´s more diverse than history is teaching us.
Traynham: Well, and to that point, fast-forward to October of 2017, in the building right behind us, in the U.S. Capitol, a Congressional Gold Medal finally was awarded to the individuals from the Philippines from a heritage standpoint. Walk us through that ceremony, what it meant to you.
De Guzman: Right. So, you know, in a lot of ways, October 25th was a culmination of decades of work trying to raise the profile of these veterans. Another untold story is that right after the war, all of the Philippine soldiers who served had their status taken away from them as U.S. veterans by two budget rescission acts that were signed literally into law -- We´re about to celebrate, recognize the anniversary of those, of the signing of those bills in February of 1946. So for us, October 25th kind of returns us the scene of the crime and is an effort by the U.S. government to make amends for the ways in which it treated Filipino soldiers during World War II and afterwards and is kind of a small but meaningful effort to recognize their service and the decades that they have gone since.
Traynham: The underlying DNA of what we´re talking about is the American story. This is our story, this is our heritage, and it´s our country, too. We talked about the gold medal, obviously -- trying to make something right that was so, so wrong, and I want to fast-forward to the present and also your organization. As I understand it, over 10,000 World War II veterans of Filipino heritage are still alive. What are you doing in terms of programs to honor those individuals that are still with us?
De Guzman: Right. So there are two things. One is at the ceremony itself in October, we were able to give out 500 replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal. The original gold medal is gonna sit in the Smithsonian or wherever it´s gonna sit here in Washington. But it´s important for us that the veterans who served have their own piece of that history. So we´re committed to raising the funds to make sure that veterans who join our registry are part of that history, and we give them a replica of that gold medal. And then also, we´re building around those medals an education program -- curricula, online resources to make sure that their story gets to be told as part of America´s story for generations to come.
Traynham: Ben, you mentioned a few moments ago that you´re raising funds and/or resources for the replication of those medals for programming. For the folks that are watching this program at home or perhaps maybe on their smart device, how can they donate? How can they get more information? How can they learn more about this American story?
De Guzman: Yes, so our website is filvetrep.org -- F-I-L-V-E-T-R-E-P. And we have -- You know, we´re active on social media, so you can check us out on Facebook and Twitter. And that´s how we get the word out for -- about the things that are coming up for our veterans.
Traynham: Ben De Guzman, thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate it. -
De Guzman: Thank you so much.
Traynham: And, of course, thank you for joining us, as well. And for more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham. Have a great day. Bye-bye.