CHICAGO (JGL) — Better late than later.
A nationwide public information and education campaign to highlight the services and sacrifices of Filipino veterans of World War II and preserve their historic legacy in a digitized education program is now officially underway with the formation of “The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project” (FilVetREP) last September 13, 2014.
The project will collect Filipino and Filipino-American WWII Soldiers stories of patriotism, duty, and uncommon valor that have re-told over the last 70 years.
“The importance and value of advancing the project at local and national levels will unite our community to support the Veterans so, it will have a lasting impact on future generations” according to a handout from Jon Melegrito and Bing Branigin.
A non-partisan, community-based charitable organization and an all-volunteer national educational initiative, FilVetREP’s main mission is to raise the American people’s awareness about the valuable role Filipino WWII veterans played; gain recognition for their selfless sacrifice and uncommon valor in the form of a Proclamation; and secure the Congressional Gold Medal award for their dedication to duty and distinguished service to the nation.
The Filipino WWII soldiers appear to be the last minority veterans of World War II who have yet to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Other minority veterans who were previously recognized include the Tuskegee Airmen, Montford Marines, Navajo Code Talkers, Women Air Service Pilots, Japanese American Nisei Soldiers, and Puerto Rican soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment.
“Recognition of their wartime service and the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal is a way of saying ‘thank you’ to our veterans,” said retired Fil Am Major Gen. Antonio Taguba. “We owe it to our heroes that they get the recognition they deserve, now!” The medal, along with Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the highest civilian award in the U.S. bestowed to outstanding citizens and groups.
FilVetREP plans to achieve these goals through a nationwide public information and education campaign, legislative action, academic research and study, a national tour and exhibition of the Congressional Gold Medal, and development of a digitized national educational program for secondary schools and colleges.
Organization & Governance
A Board of Directors representing Filipino veterans in the Philippines and across the nation, including Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa, has been constituted in a September 2014 meeting.
The officers and ex-officio members of the Board are:
- Chair, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret)
- Vice Chair, Marie Blanco, former Chief of Staff to the late Senator Daniel Inouye
- Secretary, Jon Melegrito, National Communications Director of NaFFAA
- General Counsel, Erick Soriano, a Washington DC attorney and Managing Member of Axxis Law Group, PLLC
- Youth Representative, Joel Vazquez, University of Maryland student
- Philippines Representative Maj. Gen. Del Lorenzana (Ret), Director of the Philippine Embassy’s Veterans Affairs Office
The other members of the Board are:
- Armin Sayson of Dayton, OH
- Ben Acohido of Hawaii
- Christy Panis Poisot of Houston, TX
- Dick Aquino of Jacksonville, FL
- Giselle Rushford of Denver, CO
- Jerry Clarito of Chicago, IL
- Luisa Antonio of San Francisco, CA
- Oscar Hillman of Seattle, WA
- Rozita Lee of Las Vegas, NV
- Steven Raga of New York City
FilVetREP is in the process of incorporating as a non-stock, nonprofit charitable organization under applicable Virginia law. It also intends to seek 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a public charity under applicable Federal law.
To date, more than 30 national organizations and veterans advocacy groups have joined the project as partners and supporters. Among them:
- Bataan Legacy Historical Society,
- Bataan-Corregidor Foundation of New Mexico,
- Filipino American Association of Georgia,
- Filipino American National Historical Society,
- Filipino American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI) of Los Angeles,
- Filipino History Society of Hawaii,
- Filipino Veterans Equity Center of San Francisco,
- Filipino Veterans Foundation of Florida,
- KAYA Filipinos for Progress,
- National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE),
- National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA),
- Philippine Embassy
- Philippine Scouts Heritage Society,
- University of Maryland Filipino Cultural Association (FCA),
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) chapters in Guam and Hawaii
Also assisting in the Project are independent documentary film producers Sonny Izon and Steven Menick.
Supporting the board are Executive Committee members Phil Olaya and Jude Soundar, who both worked in the Inter Agency Working Group (IWG) of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, NaFFAA National Director Bing Branigin, NAFVE Coordinator Ben de Guzman, Ron Sagudan of the US Veterans Administration and Hector Vargas, former Commissioner to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Subcommittees were also formed to implement the various functions of the project: Web Site Development (Soundar and Eric Macalma), Communications & Marketing (Margaret Lacson-Ecarma, Erwin de Leon, Sonny Izon, Macalma, Soundar, Vazquez), Fundraising (Branigin, Gem Daus, Ben de Guzman, Gloria Caoile, Lida Peterson), Public Information and Education (Branigin, Melegrito, Ecarma, Vargas), Veterans Support and Outreach (Sagudan, Lorenzana, Taguba).
An Academic Advisory Group has been conducting academic and historical research for the past six months. It is led by University of Maryland professors Dr. Jon Sumida, Dr. Colleen Woods and Dr. Janelle Wong and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Political and Legal History Professor, Dr. Chris Cappozolla.
“The war in the Pacific was a significant campaign,” said Sumida, a professor of military history. “Filipino guerillas saw themselves not just liberating the Philippines, but as part of an international struggle against a hostile menace. It is exciting for historians to dig deeper into this so Americans can have a larger understanding of World War II.”
Woods, a history professor, is leading the effort to identify sources of research for students and historians. Some of them include the National Archives, the MacArthur Library in Norfolk, VA., and the U.S. Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, PA. Woods will be teaching “History 408: War in the Pacific,” a senior level seminar, in Fall 2015 at the University of Maryland College Park.
Engagement and Education
The project is contemplated to have several phases, including but not limited to a national exhibition of the Congressional Gold Medal, potentially in collaboration with a national museum, such as the Smithsonian Institution; the establishment of a digital education program for use in public schools; and Congressional support and approval for the recognition of wartime services of our veterans and the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal.
Veterans and Families Roster & Repository
To ensure that no veteran is left out, a master list of survivors and immediate families of veterans who have died is being compiled. The key focus is to include anyone who served honorably between July 26, 1941 through December 31, 1946, were in active status under the command of the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), served within the Philippine Army, the Philippine scouts, the Philippine Constabulary, recognized guerrilla units, the New Philippine Scouts, the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, 2d Filipino Infantry Battalion (Separate), and 1st Filipino Reconnaissance Battalion.
Web Site & Social Media
Information about the project can now be accessed at www.filvetsrecognition.org and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FilVetsRecognition. Keep an eye out for key documents for FilVetREP, bios for project leadership, and other timely updates.
To further heighten awareness about the project and promote its important work, FilVetREP is sponsoring a logo design contest. “We need a memorable logo that conveys the mission of the Project and invokes the spirit of the Filipino American WWII veterans that are the core of the Project’s work,” says Taguba. Competition is now open and the deadline to submit entries has been extended to November 30, 2014. More details are provided in the web site, www.filvetsrecognition.org. Submissions for the competition should be sent to FilVetsRecognition@gmail.com.
For more information about the project, e-mail FilVetsRecognition@gmail.com.