Incredible as in fact it really is, while the geniuses who run our Department of Education stealthily completely obliterated the curriculum for Philippine History teaching in our high school system (I bet you did not know of this national sacrilege), the United States Congress passed a public law, the body of which spells out an irreducible capsule of Philippine history.
Let me share a teaser with you. US Public Law 114-265 (signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 14, 2016) cites “the First Philippine Republic…..on June 12, 1898…declared to be an independent and sovereign nation.” In Section 2 of the law, “Findings,” the Filipino WW II veterans are recognized as “also defending, and ultimately liberating, sovereign territory held by the United States Government.” The Section ends with paragraph 22: “The United States remains forever indebted to the bravery, valor, and dedication that the Filipino Veterans of World War II displayed. Their commitment and sacrifice demonstrates a highly uncommon and commendable sense of patriotism and honor.”
It is this particular law that awards the Congressional Gold Medal, “collectively, to the Filipino veterans of World War II, in recognition of the dedicated service of the veterans during World War II.” Replicas in bronze are awarded to those qualified while the single original, (struck by the U.S. Mint under the Treasury Department) Gold Medal has been deposited with the Smithsonian Institution for display and research.
The Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) is genuinely a very big deal. It is a uniquely American recognition and accolade. An award bestowed by the United States Congress, it seeks to honor those, individually or as a group, “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.” It was first awarded in 1776.
Our Filipino WW II veterans, collectively, now join a long list of earlier honorees. A sampling includes the “9/11” Victims, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, the Navajo Code Talkers, George Washington and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Bob Hope and Irving Berlin, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, and very many illustriously more.
Deeply involved in the legislative process as well as in the design of the Gold Medal, having been so designated by the U.S. Mint/Treasury Department, is the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project organization. “FilVetRep” is an all-volunteer national initiative “ to raise awareness through academic research and public education and obtain national recognition of the Filpino-American WW II soldiers for their wartime service.” The organization is now in the process of developing a national digital education program aimed at educating the American public and raising national awareness of the accomplishments of Filipino-American soldiers in defense of the US in WW II.
FilVetRep is the very vanguard of spreading in the U.S. the ‘gospel,’ as it were, as pronounced by Public Law 114-265, officially known as the “Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015” and its historical background .
FilVetRep is headed by retired US Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba, as Chairman. Tony is the son of a WW II Philippine Scout veteran and Bataan Death March survivor. He is most remembered for his investigative report on the 2003 prisoner abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Tony is a Sampaloc boy. His family lived in Calle Josefina close to Balik-balik, a few blocks from the Espana/QC Welcome Rotunda, before immigrating to Hawaii in the early 1960s, when he was eleven years old.
The first conferment of the Congressional Gold Medal was held two years ago, October 25, 2017, at the US Capitol’s Emancipation Hall in Washington D.C., with then Speaker Paul Ryan officiating. There were some 21 Filipino honoree-veterans assembled for that historically significant moment. As is obvious, their ranks are fast dwindling.
The latest such activity, which I had the privilege of attending, was held at the ceremonial Atrium Hall of Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas last Friday, also October 25.
The honoree was Jose Manzano-Somera, a Philippine Scout Veteran who hails from Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, now a resident of Georgetown, Texas. Private Somera wore a ‘barong Filipino,’ and is wheelchair-bound. In attendance were his wife and 2 daughters, family friends, American war veterans as well as a representative officer corps of the First Cavalry, clad in ceremonial formal “Class A” uniforms. They also served as hosts and ushers of the ceremonies. Performing the honors of the CGM presentation were Major General Scott Efflandt, Deputy Commanding General and Congressman Roger Williams, both of whom delivered celebratory remarks. The event was prominently reported by area newspapers and television in Central Texas.
I must not fail to mention what a personal joy it was, standing at attention, during the opening of the morning ceremonies while the Philippine National Anthem was being played live by a quintet of the First Cavalry band, conscious that this was happening inside an American military facility.
Ft. Hood is the General Headquarters of the US Army’s III Corps, among whose more than a dozen subsidiary units include the storied First Cavalry. On February 3, 1945, the First Cavalry spearheaded the liberation of Santo Tomas and Malacanang. Pre-adolescent Sampaloc boys of the time, like myself, were familiar with the outsized shoulder patch with yellow background, a diagonal bar and the head of a horse, both in black. By the way, the Fort Hood military installation is Texas big! It covers an area of 64+ square kilometers whereas all of good old Manila is slightly less than 43 square kilometers.
Arrangements and coordination with the honoree’s family as well as with the hosting courtesies and accommodations extended by Fort Hood were all undertaken by Colonel Nonie Cabana in his personal advocacy of recognizing the living Filipino WW II veterans. In so doing, he fulfills the objectives of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project organization, on whose behalf Nonie assists in related activities in his designated area covering the States of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana.
He had the honor of delivering the closing remarks in last Friday’s ceremonial Congressional Gold Medal presentation.
Col. Nonie Cabana (Ret.), himself, is also a noteworthy story. Originally from Cavite, son of a US Navy steward, he joined the US Air Force as an enlisted man at the age of 18. Taking advantage of available educational opportunities the US military offered, the Officers Candidate School included, he retired as a full colonel. He has served in assignments all over Europe, South Korea and the US, of course. He is presently an adjunct faculty of the Texas A&M, San Antonio campus, lecturing on Logistics and Supply Chain Management. As a personal aside, he also grows calamansi shrubs in his backyard from which I have benefited.
The “Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015” (Public Law 114-265) is available here: https://www.congress.gov/114/plaws/publ265/PLAW-114publ265.pdf
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.