PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
I had the privilege of going to our nation’s capital on Oct. 25, 2017, to witness the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in honor of the Filipino Veterans of World War II.
From 1934 until the Philippine independence in 1946, the U.S. retained sovereignty over Philippine foreign policy. In 1935, as part of the National Defense Act, which was signed by Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon and passed by the Philippine Assembly, Gen. Douglas MacArthur had the task of creating an independent army for the Philippines and by 1941 had about 139,000 members.
On July 26, 1941, as tensions were brewing in the Pacific region, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his authority to “call into service of the United States … all of the organized military forces of the Government of the Philippines.”
This led to the formation of the U.S. of America Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and Manila served as the command, control and communication headquarters. Within 24 hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Americans and Filipinos in the Philippines.
From 1941 to 1946 an estimated 250,000 Filipinos fought alongside American forces in the Philippines and Pacific region to fight and resist Japanese forces. Filipinos in the USAFFE included the Philippine Commonwealth Army, Philippine Scouts, Philippine Constabulary, Filipinos from the U.S. who enlisted with the U.S. Army (1st Filipino Infantry Regiment and 2nd Filipino Infantry Battalion, and 1st Reconnaissance Battalion), the “Guerilla Services” who fought behind enemy lines and Filipino civilians who became “attached” to various U.S. Army units. They displayed their bravery and loyalty in various operations such as the Battles of Leyte, Bataan, Corregidor, Luzon, Southern Philippines as well as New Guinea.
In September 2017, I didn’t know what prompted me to look up my father’s World War II unit, but during my internet search I stumbled upon U.S. Public Law 114-265, which was cited as the “Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015.” When I saw this I experienced a combination of amazement, goosebumps, excitement and pride for not only my father but for the thousands of Filipinos who fought in World War II for the U.S. of America.
My search also led me to the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetRep) website, which provided details about a planned ceremony at the U.S. Capitol around October or November 2017 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Filipino Veterans of World War II. I had hoped that I was not too late to apply.
The next day I contacted the coordinators of the event to submit my father’s documentation as proof that during that time he was a Filipino World War II Veteran and requested that I attended on his behalf.
This award became reality due to the tireless efforts of retired Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, U.S. Army, and his entire FilVetRep staff in supporting Filipino veterans.
I had never seen or been at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony but it was definitely one to remember for the ages.
Perhaps the most special guest was Mr. Celestino Almeda, a 100-year-old Filipino World War II Veteran whose admirable speech captivated the audience to a standing ovation when he said, “old soldiers never die, they just fade away; thank you all and God Bless America.”
My father, Pedro B. Gagni, was a Filipino citizen when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in December 1942 as a member of the 2nd Filipino Infantry Battalion and was honorably discharged with a rank of Technician 4th Class in December 1945. He passed away at the age of 93 and I was stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan, at that time.
After his death I wanted to know more about his military service so I requested his records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. For his World War II service, he received the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars, World War II Victory Medal and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
Though my father is not here to experience the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony, which was over 70 years in the making, the fruits of his labor and service are now cemented in American history. He also left a lasting imprint on our family regarding hard work and the importance of military service and we carry on his legacy.
My family comes from a long line of military services. I am in my 26th year of active duty service and my brother served in the Navy and in the Navy Reserves from 1993 to 2001.
Additionally, my son is following in his grandfather’s footsteps by starting his journey as a freshman in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 159 at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. My daughter will likely follow as well; she is now in her junior year in the Air Force Junior ROTC program at Satellite High School, Florida.
From my family, and on behalf of the thousands of Filipino World War II Veterans and their families, I’d like to simply thank the U.S. of America, even though it may have taken over 70 years to formally thank and recognize their noble efforts, hard work and sacrifices in preserving the freedoms and liberties we enjoy today and for many years to come.