Fought and forgotten: Filipino World War II veterans honored with medal 75 years later

Filipino-American veteran Remigio Cabacar, 90, will be receiving a Congressional Gold Medal presentation for his service in World War II. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

By Walbert Castillo/USA TODAY – Filipino veterans of World War II will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, after a lengthy battle for national recognition of their U.S. military service and sacrifices nearly 75 years ago.

The medal is the highest civilian award and will be presented at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol to honor the 260,000 Filipinos who fought alongside American forces during the war and more than 57,000 Filipino troops who died.

Their service began in 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East, offering full veterans’ benefits to Filipinos who enlisted. The Philippines at that time was a U.S. commonwealth, and Filipinos were U.S. nationals.

But once the war ended, the benefits were quickly rescinded by President Harry Truman in 1946, and the Filipinos who served were stripped of their status as U.S. veterans. The Philippines was singled out from the 66 nations allied with the U.S. during the war.

Many relatives and supporters of the veterans say not nearly enough has been done to recognize their sacrifices.

“If you look at what they did, why? The services that were rendered by the Filipinos was nothing,” said World War II veteran Remigio Cabacar, 90, a native of the Philippines who lives in Fort Washington, Md.

Celestino Almeda, 100, is a Filipino World War II veteran who immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 and lives in Gaithersburg, Md. During a protest about a decade ago, he said he chained himself to the White House fence because the U.S. was not providing the benefits promised to veterans like him.

“Why was America turning their back away from the veterans?” Almeda recalled.

Now, Almeda plans to be at Wednesday’s ceremony and is scheduled to give remarks.

“This is not only my triumph to receive the medal, but the triumph of my colleagues who were with me, but unluckily some of them passed away.” Almeda said.

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