Fil-Ams gather at the Philippine Plaza in Jersey City, NJ to commemorate Veterans Day. | Photo Nestor Enriquez
(L-R) Philippine Congressman Gary Alejano, WW II Veteran Capt. Pablo Barros, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro. | Photo Nestor Enriquez
Bronze Star Service awardee Capt. Susan Sobrepeña, a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point who saw action in Afghanistan as a pilot, receives the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her late father Ramon Pelaez Sobrepena. | Photo Lambert Parong
Consul General Claro S. Cristobal (2nd-row standing, 3rd L-R) and US Army Major General (Ret.) Antonio Taguba (2nd row standing, 4th L-R) with Capt. Pablo Barros (seated 2nd L-R), surviving World War II veteran, and family members of other veterans who received the Congressional Gold Medal Award on 8 September 2018 at the Philippine Center in New York. | Photo Lambert Parong
JERSEY CITY, NJ – On a chilly and windy day of November, community leaders and members including Jersey City officials, Mayor Steven Fulop, and Council President Rolando Lavarro, gathered at the Philippine Plaza in Jersey City to honor war veterans particularly World War II Filipino veterans who reside in this town.
Although Veterans Day was observed in simple rites, the event became even more memorable and meaningful as it coincided with the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day. The signing of the armistice between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiegne, France ended the hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. It took effect at 11 o’clock in the morning at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.
History buff Nestor Enriquez of Jersey City — a war veteran of the Korean War who served in the US Navy Submarine Force — coordinated the event with community leader Flor Medel and Eric Lachica of the US Pinoys for Good Governance. Philippine Congressman Gary Alejano, a former marine who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) was also in attendance to pay tribute to his fellow soldiers. He and former Navy officer and incumbent Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV of the Magdalo movement are strong critics of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
“The day, however, belongs to Captain Pablo Barros,” said Enriquez. “I addressed the crowd that he is a living (batong buhay) ‘monument’.”
Enriquez added that Barros belongs to the generation of great WWII heroes. “I am a lightweight in comparison to him,” he said. He remembered Captain Barros as one of the veterans who chained themselves at the White House fence during their advocacy for Filipino WWII veterans equity compensation in the late 80s.
According to Enriquez, Barros is the only survivor from a group he had interviewed for an Oral History Project about Filipino veterans for the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS). Another Fil-Vet he spoke to was Captain Jose G. Red who died in January this year in his hometown in Catanduanes, Philippines.
Barros was one of the 15 WWII veterans honored by Consul General Claro Cristobal and General Antonio Taguba (Ret.) at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center last September. They received a US Mint replica of the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) awarded by the US Congress to Filipino veterans of WW II. They were also given a copy of Public Law 114-265 otherwise known as the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015.
In his remarks, Consul General Cristobal expressed his gratitude to them. “We and the generations of Filipinos to come owe you our thanks and respect. Because of you, we are able to enjoy the fruits of progress, freedom, and democracy,” he said. He assured the families of the veterans that their services to “our country and people will never be forgotten.”
Honored with Barros were his fellow recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal: Major Jose Falco, Abelardo Perucho Andal, Santiago Hipolito, Filemon T. Magracia, Andres S. Friginal, Moises M. Santos, Romeo Guttierez, Leopoldo T. Osano, Mario J. Valdeavella, Fidel A. Ansay, Jaime B. Aban, Avelino Tanjutco, Jacobo Tanjutco, and Ramon Pelaez Sobrepeña.
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the one-year anniversary of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Filipino WW II Veterans on October 25, 2017, was likewise observed on Veterans Day. The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) and the Philippine Embassy led the celebration, which included a Congressional Gold Medal awards ceremony honoring 9 Filipino WW II veterans. Their next-of-kin received bronze replicas on their behalf.
Attending the event which was held at the Philippine Embassy’s Consular Annex Building, were community leaders, diplomatic officials, families of veterans and representatives from the D.C. Mayor’s Office.
“Although it took more than 75 years for that epic day to come, it is nonetheless a time we will long remember, because the 260,000 men and women who fought under the American flag were stripped of their status and denied their rights,” said Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret.), chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). “Because they were almost forgotten, their pain still lingers to this day.”
Taguba said that securing their recognition is just a phase of FilVetRep’s mission. “We must now tell their story of valor and duty to country, to remind this generation and generations to come that they are the beneficiaries of heroic acts and selfless sacrifice by brave soldiers determined to defend freedom at all costs,” he said.
In his remarks, Philippine Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Patrick A. Chuasoto said: “Your fathers and grandfathers left a priceless legacy that we can never hope to repay, but one that we vow to always preserve and cherish.”
Chuasoto added that the veterans also personified the close people-to-people ties that bound the Philippines and the U.S.for the last 70 years. “We will continue to do so in the coming decades,” he said.