It was December 7th and 8th 1941, when the day stood still for the White House and Malacanang Palace amongst others. Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in the Western Hemisphere while also having invaded the Philippines in the Eastern Hemisphere. It was a shadow of the original call to service five months earlier on July 26, 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned all “organized military forces” of its former U.S. Colony in the Philippines. That shadow turned into added fuel firing up the heart of the Philippine people to help its American allies WWII. It’s in that spirit however though that still lives and shined brightly on this day of October 25th, the day when Congress finally had given these veterans their due recognition and reward.
Thanks to efforts from those fighting for these Filipino American veterans many politicians, senators, congressmen and women finally gathered together along with the public eye to give much belated due respect, however the ghosts from the past still haunts to this day of what had transpired in history.
Among the forces called in 1941 were the Philippines Commonwealth Army; which was established during the early days of American occupation and recognized as Guerrilla units since its inception. Despite their service unfortunately, the Philippine forces who were U.S. nationals, were stripped of the same rights, benefits, and privileges from all others who served under the U.S. Armed Forces, thanks to the Rescissions Act of 1946. Yet that’s exactly what makes it more bitter and sweeter on this day when the last two speakers were perfectly chosen to close out the ceremonies. No, it was not Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, or Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, or Representative Ed Royce of D.C., all champions for this cause. No, it was not Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader of the Senate, or House Speaker Ryan who had the respect of the whole room at the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
It was Mrs. Caroline Burkhart, representing the Next of Kin of American Veteran and Mr. Celestino Almeda, Filipino Veteran representing the Philippine Commonwealth Army. These two represented the coming together of two countries for a common cause, and more importantly recognizing the coming together of two groups of peoples. The statement still echoes in my mind to this day, when Major General Tony Taguba (the leader of FilVetREP the organization that fought for the veterans in front of Congress and throughout this whole process) made a bold statement that, this is a both a American and Filipino situation.
After getting a front row seat being both apart of the events, and also documenting this historical day, it was even more telling remembering just how long it took these Filipino and American veterans to receive their due reward. Seventy plus years have gone by for a day such as this. What a better way to cap off then Mr. Almeda letting everyone know that at 100 years old, he represents all those lives lost to the war, and all those lives who died never seeing their due reward. Mr. Celestino Almeda’s inspiring words will forever resonate echoing throughout those halls in the Emancipation Hall, but at least for this October 25th, the day stood still for a celebration such as this. Something that will never go away in the history books.