Should Filipino veterans receive U.S. military honors?

On December 15, 2011 a bill was filed in the U.S. Congress seeking to grant the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal to American and Filipino troops who defended Bataan during World War II.

S.2004 filed by Senator Tom Udall seeks to award “a single gold medal” to the troops from the United States and the Philippines who defended Bataan “and were subsequently prisoners of war” during World War II. The counterpart H.R. 3712 was introduced by Rep. Martin Heinrich in the Lower House.

The congressional honor shows the U.S. government’s appreciation for exemplary achievements. George Washington was the first recipient in 1776, and many of the succeeding awardees were military generals.

Over the years, however, the recipients have come from all walks of life not exclusive to the armed forces — or to Americans. Among those who have earned it were comedian Bob Hope in 1962, actor John Wayne in 1979, Rosa Parks in 1999, Mother Teresa in 1997, Pope John Paul in 2000 and Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008.

The Udall-Heinrich bill spells out in harrowing detail how the combined U.S.-PH troops survived the Bataan Death March never wavering in their patriotism and loyalty to the U.S. For this, they deserve the Gold Medal.

“(They) were taken prisoner and forced to march 65 miles without any food, water, or medical care.

“During this forced march, thousands of soldiers died, either from starvation, lack of medical care, sheer exhaustion, or abuse by their captors.

“Conditions at the prisoner of war camps were appalling, leading to increased disease and malnutrition among the prisoners.

“The prisoners at Camp O’Donnell would die at a rate of nearly 400 per day because of its poor conditions.”

One veteran is unmoved.

World War II fighter and veterans lobbyist Franco Arcebal said the award of the medal is unlikely to happen.

“If the mainstream veterans who served in the Gulf, Korea or Vietnam were not given the Congressional Gold Medal, I doubt they would give it to Filipino veterans,” the 88-year-old pragmatic told The FilAm.

It’s a long shot, he said. The bill goes through the legislative mill with many veterans services groups likely to block it, and commanding generals recommending their own people.

If for some reason, the bill passes and the Gold Medal is given out to the Bataan troops, Arcebal said he can almost hear the grousing from many American veterans. “Daming magrereklamo niyan pag binigay sa Pilipino,” he said. – Cristina DC Pastor

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