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Unsung heroes: Filipino WWII veterans

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SAN DIEGO — Broken promises on the war front. 

Cenon Audencial was a guerilla with the Philippine Resistance Movement turned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East in the early 1940s. Like many of the 260,000 Filipinos who fought and served under and alongside the U.S. military during World War II, Audencial may never be recognized for his war efforts because of lost documentation. 

This story dates back several decades. There was a call for Filipinos to serve under the U.S. Armed Forces in 1941 when the Japanese advanced on Philippine soil during World War II. Among the organized military forces were the young men and women in recognized guerilla units, The Philippine Commonwealth Army and Philippines Scouts. 

“It wasn’t their war to fight,” recalled Cita Gruta, whose father worked as a spy for the U.S. during that time. 

Bienvenido Guiam disguised himself as a poker player who was well liked by the Japanese. His war stories were shared with his son-in-law, Dan Gruta, a retired U.S. Navy captain. 

“My father-in-law’s first tool as a spy wasn’t a gun. It was a deck of cards,” Gruta said. 

By the end of World War II, Guiam was discharged as a Captain. However, Captain Guiam, along with thousands of Filipino U.S. veterans, never received their promised end of the bargain in annuity from the U.S. government. 

Retired Captain Gruta described it as “a betrayal of trust.” 

“You don’t fight a war anywhere, and I spent 34 years in the [U.S.] military myself, and then get nothing for it. Yet [the Filipino soldiers] helped liberate the Philippines,; yet they defeated the Japanese; yet they saved the United States; and then Congress said, ‘You’re not going to get any money with The Rescission Act of 1946,’” said retired Major General Antonio Taguba. 

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed off on The Rescission Act of 1946, stripping Filipino soldiers of their U.S. nationalities and other rights and benefits as U.S. Armed Forces Veterans because of lack of funding. It reduced the $3 billion in promised benefits to $200 million. 

“All of these veterans were either petitioning, protesting, pleading in the halls of Congress for their due, their benefits. Meaning money that was promised to them when they were ordered to active duty on July 26, 1941, by President Franklin Roosevelt,” Taguba said. 

Retired Major General Antonio Taguba is now a chairman of The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. Their goal is to educate Americans about the heroic actions of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who fought for their freedom during WWII, only to be forgotten. 

“Give them back their honor, their dignity, their reputation. Because they’re all relevant in American history. They did not create this on their own. It was the United States government who dismissed them and disenfranchised them,” Taguba said. 

Some seven decades later there has been progress. Since 2017, Congressional Gold Medals have been presented to surviving Filipino WWII veterans of their family members who have verifiable records of their service. 

“As a U.S. Naval officer and as an American, I am very proud of what we’re doing to correct this,” Gruta said. 

When the Guiam family received a Congressional Gold Medal for their father, Captain Guiam, the moment was bittersweet. 

“It’s a little bit too late because most of [the Filipino WWII soldiers] are gone,” Cita Gruta described. 

Out of the 260,000 soldiers, only 18,000 have received their due compensation. Many of the veterans are now in their late 90’s and early 100’s. Once these veterans pass on, the benefits are only allotted to a surviving spouse. 

The fight is far from over. 

“What we’re asking for is to have the United States President apologize to the veterans. The ones that are still living along with their families and the ones that have passed on,” Taguba said. 

FILVETREP has launched “Duty to Country” which is a free educational program now being offered at schools in seven states across the country. 

Taguba said FILVETREP also wants a memorial fund which will provide educational programs for the United States and the Philippines to understand the legacy of the soldiers’ acts of service. 

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