SAN FRANCISCO – World War II was the time when more than 100 million people served in the military. It was also a time when over 70 million lost their lives.
It was a time to be brave. For Filipino-American Al Lamata, then only 19, it was a chance to fight for freedom and democracy. After all, during the war, Filipino-American units played a tremendous role in the liberation of the Philippines.
The 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments became a major source of manpower and intelligence in formerly occupied territories like the Philippines.
Lamata was inducted into the U.S. Army and volunteered to serve in the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment in 1943, as an intelligence agent deployed to Asia, including the Philippines.
But what set his regiment apart was that it was top secret. Their mission — to spy on the enemy by infiltrating their headquarters.
“They would select people who spoke various dialects and put them in submarines and deploy them in enemy lines,” he said.
Others that went in became fishermen, farmers, some of them were even houseboys for the enemy.
Lamata was not sent on any subversive missions because he was young and did not speak fluent Tagalog.
But he said he watched many of his comrades leave for secret missions and never come back. He said, “Consequences — you didn’t think about those. Again, this was war. Very bad things were going on during that time.”
Lamata was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1946.
Now 88, he said the memories of war still linger in his mind. After being part of missions that remained classified for so long, he decided to speak up — in memory of his comrades who disappeared.
He said, “I wanted my people to be known — that this action went on and nobody has ever heard about it.”
Lamata will be among the Filipino veterans who will be recognized during the USS Hornet’s Living Ship Day Series.
He said he wants the younger generation to remember the sacrifices made during the war.
Lamata concluded, “It’s not about me. It’s about the people that went on to the missions. They did what they had to do and they were doing it for their homeland.”
Fight for benefits
Meantime, Lamata calls it a tragedy that to this day, Filipino veterans who were among the 250,000 troops recruited from the Philippines, have not received their lifetime monthly pensions.
In a show of protest on August 15, a group of these Filipino veterans and their advocates from Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV), turned over their uniforms and service medals after the U.S. Congress failed to provide a committee hearing for the H.R. 210 – Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, a bill that would provide Filipino veterans lifetime monthly pensions.
This does not mean that the bill dies. But they said it lessens the chances of it being passed in Congress by October because there will not be enough time for senators to come up with a companion bill for it.
Ninety six-year old Felino Punsalan said, “The equity bill has 96 co-sponsors. There are other bills that have no cosponsors that have earned public hearings…but not to a bill that would provide honor and dignity to the Filipino veterans.”