“When God closes one door, He opens another.”
— Isaiah 22:22
CHICAGO (JGL) — After many years of frustrations by the Filipino veterans who could not find their names in the rolls of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, this group of veterans might have found some silver lining at the end of a long tunnel.
They were even more frustrated when the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) did not recognize them even if their names were listed in the roster of the U.S. Army and, of course, the Philippine Armed Forces records.
According to the HQ Philippines Command, U.S. Army Recognition Program of Philippine Guerillas, ca. 1949 report, (https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6921767), declassified by President Obama that was taken from National Archives Records Administration (NARA), 222 boxes of official guerrilla records were delivered to chief, Organizational Records Branch of the Records Administration Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on Oct. 1948. But the claims of the Filvets were exacerbated by the infamous July 12, 1973, disastrous fire at the NPRC that destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files that included files of Filipino veterans, who were denied benefits as a result because their names are not reflected in the NPRC records.
FilVetREP discovered a new database for unrecognized veterans
A group led by retired Filipino American U.S. General Antonio Taguba, who leads the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), found out that some of the names that could not be found at the NPRC had turned up at the National Archives Records Administration (NARA), the mother unit of the NPRC, based in Washington, D.C
One of those names they found was that of Aquilino Delen, who like Celestino Almeda and 4,200 others, who have appealed their cases because their names were not found at the NPRC, “were denied benefits under FVEC (Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation) ostensibly because of “insufficient proof of military service,” according to Jon Melegrito, spokesman of FilVetREP.
“FilVetREP and other advocacy groups, like the ACFV (American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, Inc. (Arlington, VA) and NAVE (National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity), have maintained all along that the U.S. Army’s records are themselves flawed and incomplete,” added Melegrito, a librarian by profession and an officer of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) based in Washington, D.C.
Melegrito said, “Mr. Almeda’s vindication is evidence of this. If the VA ruled that Almeda is indeed a US Veteran and entitled to benefits, then Mr. Delen and the 4,200 have a strong case to make that they have been unfairly treated.”
His name listed as “Felino,” not Aquilino” at NARA
Almeda was the 100-year-old veteran, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues when U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan led in the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal at the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. last Oct. 26. Melegrito explained, “In Mr. Delen’s case, his name was mistakenly listed at NARA as “Felino” not “Aquilino.” Because of technicalities like this, his appeal was dismissed. But Taguba researched Delen’s own record thoroughly at NARA and found that he is indeed a member of the Recognized Guerrillas, and is therefore entitled not only to benefits but to the Congressional Gold Medal award.”
Soon after the face of the nameless Delen was flashed on national television during the CGM presentation, one of his supporters who futilely helped him inquire from the NPRC of being listed only to be denied was taken aback when he saw Delen being congratulated by House Speaker Paul Ryan for receiving a replica of the CGM.
Rudy Asercion, a community leader in San Francisco, California, told this reporter, “No one here knew he (Delen) was going to (Washington) DC. Everyone was flabbergasted when they saw him take center stage during the CGM ceremony. To date, he has not received the $15K from the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs).”
WW II vets dishonored by Aquilino’s award?
Asercion, also an official of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), added, “The WWII veterans here told me they feel they have been dishonored by awarding the CGM to someone they all know has not proven his claim as a WWII veteran. This may be a classic case of Stolen Valor.”
This reporter tried to call Delen twice for comment but there was no option to leave a message on his phone, prompting this reporter to inquire from Melegrito.
During the CGM presentation, VA Secretary David Shulkin acknowledged Almeda’s presence, saying that the ceremony brought him (Shulkin) deep emotion for many veterans who died in the fight for freedom. “I join them in my deep thanks for the sacrifices that they made in defense of freedom. You waited a long time for this recognition for this heroism incurred and you are remarkable warriors and are so deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal.”
Almeda waited for about 70 years before his services were recognized by Veterans Affairs. Shulkin had authorized payment of $15,000 to Almeda in acknowledgment for his services. “We owe you our greatest gratitude for what you have done for our country,” Shulkin said.
“Honoring veterans is why we are here this morning. President Lincoln will be proud. Thank you very much. Thank you for your service.”