Remembering And Recognizing Filipino American World War II Veterans In Today’s America

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    Remembering And Recognizing Filipino American World War II Veterans In Today’s America

    In times of political upheaval, it becomes even more important to look not only at the swirl of events in the here and now, but to remind ourselves of the lessons that history teaches us. For times like these, the aphorism that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” is not just a theoretical nicety, but a cautionary tale told in real time.

    Every year during this week in February as we prepare to remember our leaders on President’s Day, students of military history and Filipino American/ Asian American history are mindful of what happens when presidential authority and government power fail the test of equity and justice. On February 19th, the Day of Remembrance and the anniversary of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that set in motion the incarceration of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent regardless of citizenship allow us to re-tell the story of what happens when what has been referred to as a failure of political and moral leadership allows fear to trump civil liberties.

    Right next to the 19th, the dates of February 17th and 18th offer consecutive days that are of particular significance to the movement for equity for Filipino WWII veterans. On February 18th, 1946, the first of two Rescission Acts was passed into law that would result in the proactive revocation of both the U.S. citizenship and the veterans’ status of over 200,000 soldiers who had fought shoulder to shoulder with not only Americans but with nationals from over 66 other countries who were not singled out for similar treatment. As the “original sin” of Filipino veterans equity, the 1946 Rescission Act set in motion the decades long struggle since then for what I have described elsewhere as “the simple dignity of recognition.”

    Almost to the day 63 years later, President Obama signed into law legislation on February 18, 2009 that created the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund that, while not fully absolving the U.S. government’s responsibility, provided an important support for these veterans in their twilight years. As one of the first acts of President Obama’s new Administration, this move was the culmination of many historical and political realities, including: 1) his own personal support for the Filipino WWII veterans, informed by his tenure in the Senate and his childhood in Hawai`i; 2) the legacy of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and the tireless support of other champions in the Senate and House; but most importantly; 3) the tireless advocacy and groundswell of support for these veterans led by a diverse coalition of Filipino Americans, allies from veterans service organizations, Asian American and Pacific Islander groups, civil rights organizations, and others of good will who sprang into action in response to how the U.S. government turned its back on these soldiers despite their selfless service.

    The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) has released a statement marking the anniversary of the Rescission Act, and announcing next steps for its work on behalf of Filipino WWII veterans. As we celebrate this year’s confluence of historical reminders of the price of inaction, FilVetREP is inspiring a new generation of advocates and people of good will to action on behalf of these veterans. Continuing to build on the success of last year’s historic passage of the Fiilipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act, FilVetREP is launching a slate of activities to make sure that the veterans who fought in service to this country receive the recognition their service is due called for by this important legislation. FilVetREP’s web site and social media platforms on Facebook and Twitter will be the go-to resources for the latest information about the Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino WWII veterans.

    It is all the more important that we act on behalf of the veterans this year. This April marks the 75th anniversary of the fall of Bataan and the infamous Bataan Death March, one of the most enduring legacies of World War II. Yet while the typical person off the street will will have heard about the Bataan Death March, they probably do not know about the inequities suffered by Filipino WWII veterans. FilVetREP lifts up the legacy of service of these Filipino WWII veterans, and is marking the historical milestone in particular ways. Through our 75 for 75 campaign, we look to identify 75 people who will each bring 75 of their friends and family on as new supporters of these brave soldiers. Through our documentation program, FilVetREP is building a comprehensive list of the veterans who served, and their surviving family members who bring their legacy forward. Our friends such as the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, the Filipino American National Historical Society, and even organizations such as the Filipino American Triathlon club, are getting in on the act, and bringing their support to bear on behalf of our veterans.

    In the final analysis however, the story of these veterans, and perhaps the most important part of their legacy, is not only that they are Filipino, but that they are American. They fought to defend the democracy we enjoy today under uniquely challenging circumstances, and it is our duty and obligation not only to recognize their service despite the challenges in its way, but to defend today’s democracy and pay their lessons forward.

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