A bill to award Filipino World War II veterans with the nation’s highest civilian honor is one step closer to becoming a reality.
The Filipino Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Bill was introduced last year by U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono. It passed unanimously in the Senate in July, and unanimously passed the House on Wednesday. Hirono says the effort to recognize this group has taken a more urgent tone, as the number of surviving veterans gets smaller each year.
“It’s long-overdue,” Hirono said. “It was critical that we do it this year since more of them are passing on.”
More than 250,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans fought for the United States in World War II. According to a Federal report, only about 15,000 are left.
During the war, Filipinos were promised American citizenship and benefits, but that was later retracted in 1946. It wasn’t until 1990 that they were granted citizenship.
For Stephanie J. Castillo, a congressional gold medal would honor her late father, Wallace, who was one of 300 Filipino-Americans in Hawai‘i who fought in World War II.
“This recognition would mean citizenship is affirmed for many of them,” said Castillo, an independent filmmaker who’s made several documentaries on the Filipino WWII veterans. “But for us, it’s just an honor to know that our dad is honored in this way.”
Ben de Guzman is with the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. He says the Filipino veteran’s community has waited more than 70 years to be recognized for their service.
“To have the U.S. government make this important symbolic gesture that your service mattered, is really what so many veterans are looking for at this point,” de Guzman said. “It’s not so much a question of their quality of life, it’s the dignity of their life.”
The bill now heads to the desk of President Obama for his signature.