Forgotten Filipino Warriors of Freedom
by Conrado (Sluggo) Rigor, Jr. / Filipino-American Bulletin, Seattle, WA.


The Forgotten Heroes

Artist: Ronald Recaido


The recent awarding of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor to Filipino WWII veterans has been hailed far and wide. Seven decades later, accolades in the form of replicated medals are given posthumously to families of thousands. The surviving few still participate in ceremonies but are no longer lucid nor aware what the rituals are about. As a veteran’s son, I am often invited to events honoring families of the departed and a few still-living WWII veterans. It is heartbreaking to witness such ceremonies. Solemn and profound with eloquent speeches by dignitaries, the programs make sure there is hardly a dry eye when the roll calls start and the bugle plays. Awed by the salutes and splendor, the audience remember the warriors of freedom who are no longer around. To see once-proud soldiers on stage---surviving well into their 90s, each one on a wheelchair, no longer able to understand, hear nor appreciate the ceremony extolling them is in itself an emotional experience.

The senior center where I work is a virtual repository of WWII veterans’ files especially those who had come to the U.S. to become citizens. Since the 1990s, Filipino WWII veterans of varied stripes who chose to settle down in the Northwest gravitated towards the senior center in Seattle. Many fought in the Pacific War as servicemen in the Philippine Commonwealth Army, as recognized civilian guerillas, or as Philippine Scouts. When the International Drop-In Center (IDIC) invited the old soldiers in 2004 to relocate their small table to IDIC’s Beacon Hill office, they had by then organized themselves as the Filipino War Veterans of Washington (FWVW). The Commander at that time was an Ilocano guerillero, Julio Joaquin. Working closely with Manong Julio, IDIC offered the group a room to be their official headquarters, an offer approved by the IDIC Board which the old soldiers happily accepted. I helped design their white gala uniform, designed their overseas cap, designed and produced the FWVW officers’ business cards. As adviser to the FWVW, I interviewed each one and learned about their sad plight. Thousands had arrived in the U.S. alone because Uncle Sam had legislated that only the Filipino veteran could come if he wished to be a citizen. They had believed that they would also receive long-awaited WWII service pensions. In 1990 then President George H. Bush had signed an Executive Order allowing WWII Filipino soldiers to come to the U.S. to swear allegiance as citizens. Majority of those who came were mostly economically-challenged ex-guerillas and enlisted men. There was hardly anyone with a rank higher than a lieutenant. (Another intriguing account explained by higher-ranking Filipino veterans.) Already in their mid and early 70s, many were culture-shocked, coming mainly from provincial parts of the Philippines. Worst of all, majority were unemployable due to age and lack of local experience. So IDIC had to arrange for them to receive SSI (supplemental security income), a monthly subsidy enough for an unemployed senior citizen to survive. In order for them to petition their wives and children, the veterans had to prove that they had income. Again it was IDIC that referred them to menial jobs to comply with immigration laws that will allow petitions to be filed. It was heartbreaking to see old, frail warriors working in sweat shops as janitors, laundry aides, dishwashers, kitchen aides, sharing tiny rooms at the International District and scrimping on rent and food. Of course they were hurt and angry but could not complain. Many shed tears and shared their agony with us. To be able to save a little to send to their families back home and to officially record them as employed and therefore eligible to file petitions, the aging WWII warriors felt that their dignity was trampled upon and that no one cared.

Beginning in 2005 IDIC ( advocated in earnest for the old soldiers by affiliating with local and national organizations. It turned out that their plight was duplicated in major parts of the U.S. like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu. They had wisely chosen to stay in warmer regions. In Seattle, the FWVW had 300 active members in the beginning. Aside from veterans living in the Bush Hotel and subsidized apartment facilities in Chinatown, others lived in King, Pierce and Kitsap counties. To get to know them better, IDIC conducted a survey focusing on their most critical needs. The result was heart-rending. As expected, all wanted their families to join them in the U.S. Based on the unprecedented survey that was conducted in Western Washington by virtue of a one-time grant from Governor Christine Gregoire, official endorsements came from the Washington State Veterans Affairs Office (VAO) and the Olympia-based Council of Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA). IDIC worked closely with then CAPAA Chair Ellen Abellera who made the veterans’ plight a single-minded focus. It was the first time that a community group would help make known the foremost desire of aging Filipino soldiers who lived alone in America. Although there was then a high-profile national campaign led by Washington DC-based Eric Lachica’s American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) and the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) of the late Alex Esclamado to seek pension benefits for Filipino WWII veterans as de facto wartime recruits of the U.S. Army, the old soldiers still loudly voiced their preference for their families to join them in the U.S. At that conference in Washington DC, there emerged a heated argument whether family reunification should be given equal push like that of the pension issue. I remember that the majority of veterans under Eric Lachica’s ACFV almost walked out of the Embassy after they were turned down. If not for PH Ambassador Jose Gaa’s appeal, the old soldiers---who really wanted their families more than the much-delayed pension bill---would have jeopardized the conference. Unbeknownst to the public, it was the FWVW’s and IDIC’s strategic leadership that launched what became known (and still actively pursued) as the Filipino WWII Veterans’ Family Reunification Program. Current FWVW Commander Greg Garcia is officially credited for the initiative and consequent recognition by Filipino veterans’ groups all over the U.S. It was Manong Greg’s position paper, prepared with the help of IDIC, that was roundly applauded by veterans, their widows and children in Honolulu during a NaFFAA national conference. A few months later Commanders Montero and Garcia, with their spouses, attended a command conference in Washington DC organized by the Philippine Embassy and the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) to address the pending veterans’ pension bill. I was privileged to be part of the delegation. That historic conference of aging Filipino soldiers living in the U.S. was highlighted by meetings with the late U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka. And there was the unforgettable five-minute testimony delivered by Filipino WWII hero of the Nueva Ecija Great Raid, Lt. Benito Valdez, before the U.S. Congressional Veterans’ Affairs Committee in Washington DC. In a trembling voice and holding back tears, Manong Benito appealed for family reunification before a hushed audience. After that emotional speech, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a member of the Committee, was so touched that she stepped down from her chair to embrace Manong Benito. She declared how proud she was that a war hero from her home State was performing one more heroic act on behalf of his aging comrades. Two years later the lady Senator was instrumental in arranging for the children and grandchildren of Manong Benito---who was then on his deathbed---to come to the U.S. just in time before he died at age 91.

Today, the promised reunification of veterans’ families is bogged down in bureaucratic maze. Scores of poor aging soldiers, sickly and invalid Filipino-Americans, still wait for their children, many granted temporary status as virtual visitors. The best that Uncle Sam could do for Filipino WWII veterans was to award them a one-time lump sum pension (conveniently timed with the Obama stimulus drive to jumpstart a lethargic economy). And given only to those who are still living. Those who have died waiting, even if they are listed in official rosters in U.S. military archives, their widows and families do not get anything! To address the family issue, petitioned families waiting for visa numbers are selectively given what is known as a parole agreement. Parole visas, renewed every three years and issued by the U.S. INS are very limiting because the aging veterans’ children can come to the U.S. but are not allowed to hold permanent jobs. They must wait until their visa numbers come up before qualifying for a green card that signifies permanent residence. Which could take another decade! Meanwhile, if their fathers should die while waiting, the petition could be annulled. What a deal! The situation calls for an advocate in the U.S. Government to pick up the cudgels once again for the remaining forgotten and aging warriors. It is a situation that is not known to the general public, both in the U.S. and in the Philippines. Amidst all of the glorious medal-awarding ceremonies, we hope that the old soldiers’ supporters can take another serious look at this sad and ironic situation.

U.S.-based Filipino WWII advocacy groups like the FilVetREP are doing an admirable job at drawing attention on heretofore unknown fragments in the continuing saga of the forgotten warriors. When the glorious medal-awarding ceremonies are over, the next sequel will be an educational program to perpetuate the sacrifices and valor of the Filipino soldier in WWII. Among the supportive organizations that are proposing to fund a Professorial Chair in the University of the Philippines’ Department of History is the Beta Sigma Fraternity of the Pacific Northwest. Fraternity officers have met with Prof. Rico Jose in Diliman, Quezon City to propose an academic research and Professorial Chair to study the role of Filipino soldiers in helping win the Pacific War. Because that part of our history is a personal matter to me and my siblings, I have long immersed myself in research and advocacy work even before I migrated to the U.S. All gone now---my father, my father-in-law, two of my mother’s brothers, and three other close uncles---were soldiers who fought in WWII. In my youth, growing up in the old Camp Murphy and then at historic Ft. William McKinley in Taguig with fellow-Army brats (children of Philippine military officers), I had been a member of the Sons & Daughters of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (DBC) which was envisioned by General Dionisio Ojeda to be a generation of caretakers of our fathers’ legacies.

My father’s comrades had shared awesome tales about the war and lamented how pitifully lacking post-war records are in mentioning the role of the Filipino soldier in crucial encounters and bloody battles against the enemy. They were disappointed to discover that After-Battle Reports on military operations in the Philippine archipelago were based mainly on American records, viewpoints and writings. There were hardly any wartime reports from Filipino sources. It was explained that the country was under the Japanese for three long years and most operations were conducted underground. It was foolish, they reasoned, to have maintained any paperwork in that situation. Other Filipino officers held the view that WWII happened at a time when racial prejudice was raging in the U.S. and Filipino soldiers were condescendingly looked upon as the Little Brown Brothers. Service records do show that Filipino recruits in the U.S. were assigned mostly as ammo carriers, air cargo cleaners, latrine and kitchen crews, bootblacks, battleship rust scrapers, utility and laundry aides. Contrary to dramatized post-war tales, there were not many who saw actual combat. In the Philippines, young soldiers in their early 20s recruited by General MacArthur to form the Commonwealth Army bore the brunt in defending the country from the invading Japanese. Respected Filipino military historians and academic researchers like the University of the Philippines’ Department of History Professor Rico Jose are among those who can help establish true accounts during WWII in the Philippines from oral and written testimonies. There are first-hand accounts of the war in a book written by the respected College Editors Guild (CEG) founder Ernesto Rodriguez Jr., “The Bad Guerillas of Northern Luzon.” Or the book authored by U.S. Army Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, “We Remained,” considered a classic tweak to another General’s “I Shall Return” promise.

Generations of Filipinos and the youth in schools must one day be able to read true accounts of how their forebears helped win the cause of freedom in the Pacific War. Seven decades later, it should become every Filipino’s wish to memorialize genuine accounts of that war---especially the crucial engagements where Filipino soldiers wrapped themselves in glory and displayed uncommon valor, thousands paying the ultimate price. Research about brave, selfless Filipino men and women, written by Filipinos for Filipinos should be a guiding element. Because war holds many truths, it becomes our solemn duty as a people to be discerning, to set apart what are genuinely ours. We must distinguish the glory claimed by others from those that rightfully belong to Filipino patriots. #

In 1996 aging WWII veterans rallied in Olympia, seat of Washington State government, to seek help in their campaign for family reunification.

The group was led by Commanders Julio Joaquin and Amador Montero (2nd and 3rd from left). Both have passed away.


Filipino WWII Veterans of Washington (FWVW) at a formal ceremony honoring them in Seattle.






About the Author
Conrado N. Rigor, Jr. is executive director of a non-profit human services organization ( based in Seattle. Sluggo is a community journalist who also served as information attache in Seattle’s Philippine Consulate General in the late 1980s. He is the eldest son of a WWII veteran who had figured in the historic Battle of Bessang Pass where General Yamashita and his invaders finally surrendered to end the Pacific War. His email:


About the Artist

Ronald Recaido is a Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate from California State University, Long Beach. Ron, whose father is a retired navyman, is in active service in the United States Navy. His email:



             Ron and Sluggo, in Seattle 2015






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