"A special shout-out to the great Filipino people and the millions who have crossed the ocean to come to America and be hard-working, patriotic, dedicated American citizens. We want more of you to come here."
-- SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.)
By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA & MARLON L. PECSON
(© 2017 Journal GlobaLinks)
WASHINGTON, D.C. (JGL) — After 75 years, Celestino Almeda, the 100-year-old Filipino World War II veteran, has finally gotten his due — the
Congressional Gold Medal, the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions bestowed on him and thousands of others by the U.S. Congress.
As one of the two speakers from among the six Filipino veterans and next of kin during ceremonies Wednesday (Oct. 25) in the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol, the emotional Mr. Almeda got a standing ovation when he said, “I am Celestino Almeda, a 100 year-old veteran of WW II!”
DESPITE BEING UNDERAPPRECIATED, UNRECOGNIZED:
MR. CELESTINO ALMEDA told a big crowd in the Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday (Oct. 26) that “I have waited a long time with my Filipino and American soldiers for this moment to come. After the war thousands of us felt under appreciated and unrecognized for fighting for our country."
Before the ceremonies were over, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced that he has approved Mr. Almeda's $15,000 veterans benefit from the Stimulus bill in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passed by Congress and signed by President Obama. (JGL Photograb from Speaker.Gov)
And he got another round of applause when Mr. Almeda told a packed crowd, “We stand loyal to your country, rely on faith and prayer. And thanks the Lord for watching over us. In the words of an American Soldier's Creed and a member of our team, I believe I served my mission first. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade behind. Thank you for sharing this glorious day. As the song goes, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
DAUGHTER OF DECEASED FIL AM VETERAN:
Mrs. Caroline Burkhart, daughter of Thomas F. Burkhart of Altoona, Pennsylvania who served in the 45th U.S. Army Infantry of the Old Philippine Scouts and who saw action in the Battle of Bataan, said, "I am representing families in attendance this morning and the many who are not able to attend this historic event. This ceremony was a huge expectation for so many thousands of us. And we often wondered when it would happen. After 75 long years, the day has finally arrived. I know my father would be proud along with his brothers in arms who fought beside each other and were determined to win against a brutal enemy. Thank you Speaker Ryan for hosting and presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to the Filipino veterans of World War II and their families. Special thanks to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye and retired Senator Daniel Akaka for their tireless effort as true champions for the Filipino and American veterans. Our deepest appreciation to Sen. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Rep. Joe Heck for sponsoring the Congressional Medal so that many families of deceased veterans like me can be represented today and that our loved ones will not be forgotten. We thank the members of Congress represented here for believing in the honorable service of the Filipino and American soldiers of World War II and for supporting the Congressional Gold Medal for their wartime service in the Philippines. I want to thank the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project for remembering my Dad and his comrades-in-arms and for its grass root campaign in making possible this Congressional Medal ceremony. Finally, we can find time and comfort that a grateful nation has finally recognized the Filipino and American veterans of World War II. They all displayed uncommon valor, selfless service and unquestioned loyalty to our country. They deservedly earned the Congressional Medal. God bless our veterans and families. God bless America. Thank you."
Among those who honored Mr. Almeda were U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-12-CA), Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-2-HI) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-39-CA), who were on hand during the presentation of the medal.
In dramatic remarks, Veterans Affairs Sec. Shulkin said when he learned earlier in the week that Mr. Almeda’s application for the $15,000 lump-sum benefit was still pending, "I directed my staff this week to review his records and I decided that’s it’s about time to fix the situation. Mr. Almeda, 70 years was long enough for you to wait. So, we’ve now authorized to pay Mr. Almeda $15,000 in acknowledgement for his service that it took us a long enough time to do that. But more importantly than giving you the money that you deserved and fought for, we do thank you for your service, we owe you our greatest gratitude for what you have done for our country. That decision, like all VA decisions should be, was grounded in the interest of veterans. We are principle-based institution, principle-dictated that we honor Mr. Almeda. Honoring veterans is why we are here this morning. President Lincoln will be proud. Thank you very much. Thank you for your service."
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI):
“TODAY IS AN OPPORTUNITY to honor the service of the more than 250,000 Filipinos who answered the President Roosevelt’s call to arms and who fought bravely under the American flag during World War II. And many of our speakers will talk about that and will repeat again and again so our country will never forget. Today, I think back to the promise I made to my friend, Domingo Los Banos, last Veterans’ Day. We were both on the deck of USS Missouri, like many other veterans, Domingo has been waiting for decades for Congress to finally recognize. During his speech that day, Domingo looked at me and said, “I want you to promise me that you will get this done.!” And I promised him that I will do whatever it takes to get the Congressional Gold Medal passed thru Congress and signed by the President. Domingo couldn’t make it today as he is in Honolulu but I know he is here in spirit. Congress promised them U.S. citizenship but Congress reneged and erased it from the record.” (JGL Photograb, Speaker.gov)
Aside from Mr. Almeda, who represented the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the others presented the Congressional Gold Medal were Mr. Frank Francone, American Veteran representing the (New) Philippine Scouts; Ms. Dean Aquilino Delen, Filipino veteran representing Guerrilla units; Alicia Benitez, next of kin of Filipino veteran; Margrit Baltazar, next of kin of Filipino veteran; and Mrs. Caroline Burkhart, next of kin of American (Old) Philippine Scout.
DAUGHTER OF A MEMBER OF OLD PHILIPPINE SCOUTS
Mrs. Caroline Burkhart, daughter of Thomas F. Burkhart of Pennsylvania who served in the 45th U.S. Army Infantry of the Old Philippine Scouts and who saw action in the Battle of Bataan, said, “I know my father would be proud along with his brothers in arms who fought beside each other and were determined to win against the brutal enemy.
SENATOR DEAN HELLER (R-NV):
“OUR COUNTRY has a responsibility to recognize those who put their lives on the line and this Congressional Gold Medal is a symbol of our gratitude. It is also humbling to have many Filipino veterans in my state of Nevada, some of them alive but unfortunately, some have passed on. One of those Filipino veterans is here with us today, Sgt. Baldonado. He and his daughter have travelled 2,500 miles to be here today. That’s how important this is. Sgt. Baldonado was just 15 years old when he joined the Filipino American Army in 1942. He came close to losing his life. Sgt. Baldonado, thank you for fighting. Thank you, for being faithful to America. This day is for you and every other World War II veteran, even those who have yet to be recognized for their service. This medal ensures your place in history. And thank you for everybody, who came here today.” (JGL Photograb, Speaker.gov)
“Thank you Speaker Ryan for hosting and presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to the Filipino Veterans of WW II for believing in the honorable service of their wartime services in the Philippines.”
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI):
“FOR FAR TOO LONG, THEIR service and sacrifice have gone unrecognized in the United States. … I am honored and proud that we can finally right this wrong. People like Sixto Tabay from Hawaii whom I visited recently and who was excited about this moment wished he were here today. This historic milestone would not have been achieved without Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, whose father was a Filipino veteran of World War II himself, as well as the Filipino Veteran Recognition and Education Project!” (JGL Photograb, Speaker.gov)
For his part, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) told the Journal GlobaLinks, “The Filipino soldiers fought for freedom and preservation of life and liberty we now all enjoy. Let’s not therefore forget the glorious past with its lessons and, of course, now that we all can enjoy our God-given talents.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) also spoke on the House floor to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of over 260,000 Filipino and Filipino American soldiers who bravely served our country during World War II. Earlier today, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard joined Senator Hirono and other Congressional leaders in presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino World War II veterans in a presentation ceremony in the U.S. Capitol.
SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:
“I WANT to welcome each of you to the United States Capitol. The Congressional Gold Medal is one of our oldest traditions here in the Capitol. It is the highest civilian honor that this body can bestow. Today, pursuant to S. 1555, we award this Congressional Gold Medals to Filipino Veterans of World War II. I don’t have to tell you that this is the day that is long, long overdue. Everyone knows about Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Or perhaps, lesser known, is that within hours, Japanese Forces also invaded the Philippines. And under the command of Gen. MacArthur, American and Filipino forces fought side by side to stave off invasion. All told 250,000 Filipinos answered President Roosevelt’s call to duty, most have no formal training, many had not even picked up weapons before. But they risked and in the case of so many, gave their lives fighting under our Stars and Stripes. They battled not only the enemy, they battled starvation, malnutrition. But they never lost sight of the cause. And they never accepted defeat. In the midst of the struggle, President Roosevelt addressed the Filipino people and I quote: “The great day of your liberation will come as surely as there is a God in Heaven.” Sure enough that day did come. But only due to incredible valor and sacrifice of the Filipino resistance movement and only a very, very heavy cost. More than 10,000 Americans and nearly 1-M Filipinos, mostly civilians, died in the Philippines. We are blessed today to be joined not only by some of these veterans but by their families. I do simply want to say, on behalf of all of us, to the family members and veterans. Thank you, Thank you. Thank you for being here today. (JGL Photograb from Speaker.gov)
“Our country is forever grateful for the service and sacrifice of the over 200,000 Filipino and Filipino American soldiers who bravely served our country during World War II – heroes like Sixto Tabay, the last living Filipino World War II veteran on the island of Kauaʻi who I had the good fortune to meet with recently. People like him fought bravely and sacrificed greatly, and so many made the ultimate sacrifice alongside our American troops in that war, yet their service for decades has gone unrecognized by our country.
REP. ED ROYCE (R-39-CA):
“THANK YOU TO THE FILIPINO VETERANS for helping win the most consequential war. Their sacrifices help lead to defeat of fascism, helped to the defeat of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany! A reminder to all of us that when the world needed it most, these volunteers came forward. These are the heroes that we honor today, their valor, their sacrifice in what is the highest honor the United Congress can bestow. Thank you for your help.”
PUBLIC LAW 114-265
Congresswoman Gabbard and Senator Hirono’s law, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act (Public Law 114-265), unanimously passed through Congress and was signed into law by President Obama in December 2016. The law awarded the medal collectively to the over 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-duty and fought under the American flag during World War II.
FIL AM HONORS UNCLE:
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (left) with Marlon L. Pecson of Journal GlobaLinks, who was asked by Jerry B. Clarito of the Filipino American Human Rights Association of Illinois (FAHRA-Chicago) to stay a day longer in Washington, D.C. after attending the 20th anniversary of the National Federation of Filipino Americn Association the weekend before. Mr. Clarito was asked by Sen. Durbin’s staff to document the event but he was en route to Chicago. In turn, Mr. Clarito asked Mr. Pecson to stay behind in Washington D.C.. Mr. Pecson readily accepted his sudden assignment as it will also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to honor his uncle, PFC. Eleuterio Pecson of the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East and other veterans who had similarly passed away. Pecson saw families of veterans with tears rolling down their cheeks as the Congressional Gold Medal was being presented. It was a “moment of justice, high honor and that they were not forgotten,” Mr. Pecson observed. (JGL Photo courtesy of the staff of Sen. Durbin)
“Because of legislation that we passed, today is a very special day. These warriors are finally receiving the recognition they earned and deserve, joining the heroic ranks of the likes of the Tuskegee Airmen and Hawaii’s own 442nd/100th Infantry Battalion as we honored them in the U.S. Capitol with the Congressional Gold Medal – Congress’s highest civilian honor.”
HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-12-CA):
“ISN’T THIS HAPPY, long awaited, long overdue day? I’m honored to be here with the distinguished leadership of the Congress and grateful to the sponsors of this resolution that made this day possible. Thank you. But also I want to point out that one of our colleagues, Bobby Scott, is part Filipino. Again, it is fitting that we gather here today at the Emancipation Hall on the 73rd Anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the first victory in the Liberation of the Philippines. Filipinos fought shoulder to shoulder with Americans and American Armed Forces. Our unity was forged in shared sacrifice and common purpose. Together, our fighters ensured that freedom will triumph. The 260,000 Filipino men and women who fought under the American flag were vital to the Allied Victory. Today, we commemorate their service and their sacrifices. Filipinos had made America more American.”
The CGM legislation requires the Smithsonian Institution or another national museum of similar repute to display the Congressional Gold Medal. The replicas that will be purchased by the veterans will be a bronze medal.
CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL:
OBVERSE (Heads) (left); REVERSE (Tails) (right) of the Congressional Gold Medal. (JGL Photo)
Congressional Gold Medal presented collectively to Filipino Veterans of World War II who served honorably in an active duty status between July 26, 1941 and December 31, 1946, under the command of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) within the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the Philippine Scouts, the Philippine Constabulary, recognized guerrilla units, the New Philippine Scouts, the First Filipino Infantry Regiment, the Second Filipino Infantry Battalion (Separate), or the First Reconnaissance Battalion, including those commanding or serving as U.S. military officers or enlisted soldiers.
FILIPINO AMERICAN leader Loida Nicolas Lewis (left) was ecstatic after learning that the Filipino World War II veterans were finally recognized after U.S. House of Speaker Paul Ryan led U.S. Senators and Congressmen presented the Congressional Gold Medals to the Filipino veterans. Ms. Lewis expressed her sentiments during the Gala Night on Saturday, Oct. 21, at the 20th anniversary celebration of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations at Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. At right is her kababayan (town mate) from Sorsogon City, journalist Joseph G. Lariosa of Chicago, Illinois. (JGL Photo by Marlon L. Pecson)
Its obverse (heads side) displays part of the range and breadth of the Filipino Veterans’ service in World War II. Depicted are a Filipino scout, a Filipino infantry regiment officer and a guerrilla soldier. In the foreground is an infantryman on guard, symbolizing the soldiers’ fierce determination.
SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS DAVID SHULKIN:
"GOOD MORNING, MR. ALMEDA, that’s a very hard act to follow. I’m not even gonna try. But you know, this ceremony today really brings me deep emotion for those veterans who are here with us today and their families. But there are so many who are absent here today and many who died for the fight for freedom and the speakers before me are great leadership really expressed beautifully the immense sacrifices of these heroes. I join them in my deep thanks for the sacrifices that they made in defense of freedom. You waited a long time for this recognition for this heroism incurred and you are remarkable warriors and are so deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal. In 1865, President Lincoln charged us to care for those who have borne the battle. It’s a noble mission, a commitment, it’s a promise to care for all who served this nation. One way that we do that at the VA is by providing veterans the benefits and services they earned and deserved. And earlier this week, when I learned Mr. Almeda’s long battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs to get the benefit he earned as a result of his services in World War II, when I heard the story of Mr. Almeda, I directed my staff this week to review his records and I decided that’s it’s about time to fix the situation. Mr. Almeda 70 years was long enough for you to wait. So, we’ve now authorized to pay Mr. Almeda $15,000 in acknowledgement for his service that and it took us a long enough time to do that. But more importantly than giving you the money that you deserved and fought for, we do thank you for your service, we owe you our greatest gratitude for what you have done for our country. That decision, like all VA decisions should be, was grounded on the interest of veterans. We are principle-based institution, principle-dictated that we honor Mr. Almeda. Honoring veterans is why we are here this morning. President Lincoln will be proud. Thank you very much. Thank you for your service." (JGL Photograb from Speaker.Gov).
The reverse (tails side) design displays both the American and Filipino World War II-era flags.
FILIPINO VETERANS OF WORLD WAR II
• UNITED STATES ARMY FORCES IN THE FAR EAST
• DUTY TO COUNTRY
• BATAAN & CORREGIDOR
• SOUTHERN PHILIPPINES
• ACT OF CONGRESS 2016
Mint and Mint Mark
MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL (R-Ky.):
“TODAY, WE GATHER to salute the Filipino people to pay tribute to extraordinary bravery and sacrifice in the Second World War. To celebrate bonds of friendship and culture that endure today. I was recently struck by a particular Filipino saying. It speaks of a communal bond, and sense of brotherhood. For the more than 250,000 brave Filipinos who fought for freedom, it spoke of a connection that will ultimately led to triumph in WW II. The saying roughly translates as “united we stand, divided we fall.” It’s a sentiment that many of us find similar admonition and scripture and is part of a popular song during the American Revolution. Today, it holds a special meaning for me as the motto of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Filipino warriors embodied this maxim and with grit and determination. They fought together for their home and their people. Sometimes, alongside American G.I.’s, sometimes at the core of unyielding resistance. Thru it all, never, never giving up. That was true from the moment Imperial Japan launched a deadly surprise attack just hours after Pearl Harbor. Fighting back was sure to mean hardship for the Filipino people. They fought back anyway. The raid against them, the executioner’s pistol, they are to break them, the captor’s whip awaiting ominously the world’s most infamous March. The war machine of a vast empire poured down upon this island nation. and yet they are the Filipino people were still fighting on. Standing together. Never forgetting that division will ultimately mean defeat. In victory, they marched on. In defeat, they kept hope close. In resistance, they held aloft the spirit of a people for all the world to see. Unbent. Standing tall. Enduring still. Thanks to many brave efforts of the Filipino people, Allied Forces would go on to win the struggle in the Pacific. The sacrifices they made were crucial, not just to their ultimate freedom but to ours as well. As the son of a soldier, who was slated to be deployed in the Pacific Theater, I’m particularly grateful of the war’s end. When General MacArthur was forced to evacuate the Philippines, he made a solemn promise, “I shall return.” Now 75 years later, the United States is returning to recognize the Filipino veterans of the Second World War. With the Gold Medal we present today, we are paying tribute to a selfless sacrifice. We are remembering the indomitable spirit of a Pacific People. We are preserving for generations ahead this enduring reminder of valor and of honor. This is a powerful symbol of the nation’s gratitude. But each of us stands united today in saying this two simple yet powerful words: Thank you.”
• Sculptor: Phebe Hemphill, Sculptor-engraver
• Designer: Joel Iskowitz, Artistic Infusion Program
SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.):
“SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT to Sen. Hirono. I can tell everyone here what a passionate advocate she has been for the Filipino veterans throughout the years and all veterans. We would not be here without your leadership, Mazie, thank you. A special shout-out to the great Filipino people and the millions who have crossed the ocean to come to America and be hard-working, patriotic, dedicated American citizens. We want more of you to come here. What we all pay tribute today are the quarter-and-a-million Filipinos who answered an American President’s call to fight for our country in a defining war of the 20th century. Those brave men who were promised citizenship and fair compensation bravely took up arms, risking lives and limbs to fight on behalf of a country not yet their own, who fought alongside American soldiers on the beaches, far-flung islands, who suffered unspeakable brutality in Japanese prisoners-of-war camps, and died alongside American soldiers in the infamous Bataan Death March, who after winning a bloodstained victory alongside our countrymen, came home to a country that would soon rescind the benefits, recognition they were promised. After far, too-long delay, we honor them. The mark of a confidence in exceptional nation to look back on its history and say that we made the gravest error but we recognize it and pledge to never let it happen again. That’s why I am so proud to be an American today. To be here as Congress rights a decades-old wrong and bestows the highest civilian honors on Filipino veterans of WW II, enshrining in the history books, their courage, their sacrifice on behalf of this grateful nation. Thank you.” (JGL Photograb from Speaker.org)
• Sculptor: Joseph Menna, Sculptor-engraver
• Designer: Donna Weaver, Artistic Infusion Program
The presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal Replicas was slated at Ritz Carlton Hotel at 1700 Tysons Blvd., Tysons Corner, McLean, Virginia at 4:00 p.m. It was followed by a Cocktail Reception at 6:30 p.m. and a Gala Dinner and Program at 7:30 p.m.