‘I’m swelling with pride that America has come through for me:’ veteran; $1M needed for medals
Now that the Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 — granting recognition to Filipino and American soldiers who served in World War II — has been signed into law by President Obama, the next steps are being planned.
The Filipino American community needs to raise $1 million to provide medals to about 20,000 Filipino veterans in the U.S. and the Philippines, according to advocates and leaders of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP).
“By Public Law,” said retired Maj. General Tony Taguba, chairman of the FilVetREP, “Congress will appropriate funds for a single gold medal.”
“We must raise $1 million to purchase 20,000 replicas… at $50 each,” he said when reached by The FilAm by email. “FilVetREP has vowed to raise the funds to cover the cost of these medals.”
A single Congressional Gold Medal will be minted at a cost of $30,000, and will be on display in the Smithsonian, according to Jon Melegrito, spokesperson of the project. Versions of the Congressional Gold Medal will be produced in bronze, which will cost $50 each, he added. Only the cost of minting the Gold Medal at $30,000 was appropriated in the bill.
“It’s these bronze replicas that will be awarded to eligible veterans and, if they are deceased, to their closest surviving relatives,” he told The FilAm by email. The initial estimate of 20,000 is based on the number of veterans still living, both here and in the Philippines, he said.
Melegrito said the FilVetREP is currently developing a national registry to identify all eligible veterans as well as the closest relatives of deceased veterans. The estimate, he said, could go higher.
“It will take us another year to complete this registry, so we will have a better sense of the actual number of recipients by June of next year,” he said.
There will be an awarding ceremony “probably by the end of next year” by which the medals will be given out.
The son of a World War II veteran, Taguba said that after enduring 75 years of “injustice and humiliation,” Filipino World War II veterans finally regained their honor and dignity with the signing of this “historic” legislation
“With deep gratitude, our nation has now fully recognized the service and sacrifice of our brave heroes who fought valiantly under the American flag,” he said in a statement.
FilVetREP Board Member Christy Poisot of Houston, TX, granddaughter of a veteran, said the law “provides the foundation for us to ensure that their amazing stories of heroism are now part of the American story. This means my grandfather and my family can have closure. They will be honored and not forgotten.”
Said Thelma Sevilla of Seattle, WA., daughter of a Philippine Scout, “In my 20-plus years of veterans advocacy work, I have come to know and understand their courage, patience, and quiet strength, waiting for justice that’s long overdue.”
In Seattle, a number of living Filipino veterans are looking forward to receiving their medals, Sevilla said. Among them are 97-year-old Gregorio Garcia, 99-year-old Escolastico Galarosa and 98-year-old Joe Taton. “Along with countless fellow Bataan and Corregidor survivors and POWs who have since passed away, they would be thrilled just knowing that America has not forgotten them.”
In Washington, D.C. 99-year-old Celestino Almeda, 88-year-old Rey Cabacar and 86-year-old Rudy Panaglima, are also delighted that the day they’ve been waiting for finally came.
“My children will now have something to pass on to their children and their children’s children,” Cabacar said. “I’m swelling with pride that the America I served has come through for me and my fellow veterans.”
President Obama signed into law the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 on December 14, 2016. — Cristina DC Pastor