The US Congressional Gold Medal

(The Philippine Star) - November 27, 2019 - 12:00am

The US CGM is an attempt at rectification of history. The front side of the medal talks of “Filipino Veterans of WW II.” The history of the Philippine Theater of WW II, from the American written perspective, has almost always emphasized the role of Americans in the War, and very seldom that of the Filipinos . Examples of this mindset are: the account of how the “brave American forces held out for so long in 1941 - 42 against Gen. Homma’s superior forces in the Battle of Bataan and Corregidor,” the “American led Great Escape” from the prison camps at Cabanatuan, and of course “the capture by American troops of Gen. Yamashita and his soldiers“ at the Battle of Liberation in the North in 1945.

To have an American medal issued to honor Filipinos as a fighting force, who have seldom been included by Americans in the narrative of heroism, is a significant move away from the original US mindset about the Filipino War. With notable exceptions of course: Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Sir Winston Churchill both talked in glowing terms about the Filipino soldier. That the CGM mentions the “Filipino Veterans of WW II” alone without the usual credits that Americans tend to allocate to their own kind is, to my mind, is a clear attempt on the part of America to rectify a wrong done to the Filipino soldier of WW II.

Take a look at the front side of the Medal. It portrays three different Filipino soldiers of the War.

The first soldier on the left portrays soldiers of the USAFFE, many of them young men barely out of their teens, or still students or young professionals, answering a call to arms from their erstwhile colonial master who just a number of years before gone to war against them and/or their fathers. The ironic tragedy of all these young Filipinos fighting side by side with Americans did not become apparent until after the War in 1946 when the same colonial master passed the infamous Recission Act that effectively withdrew all recognition of the war efforts of all Filipino fighters who had fought under the American flag.

The entitlement to full recognition of this particular group of soldiers, our fathers, should have been apparent to Washington. They fought with unquestionable bravery and heroism, despite the fact that they were not adequately trained and badly equipped by their erstwhile colonial master. Many of them were armed with World War I single shot, bolt action Enfield rifles. Many of them only had pith helmet hats, not the steel helmets that their American counterparts were fitted with. And yet they fought the Battle of Bataan for almost 100 days, without the reinforcements and supplies that they had been promised. The convoy of ships with reinforcements and supplies that had been promised them under Plan Orange never arrived and was sent to Australia instead. They were, when they adopted the American War as their own, American Nationals, the Philippines being a colony of the United States. And yet despite being conscripted as American Nationals into the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), our fathers were denied after the War full compensation and recognition that the Americans they fought side by side with were accorded. They were simply classified as soldiers of the Philippine Commonwealth Army and left by the United States to fend on their own after the War.

The CGM, I believe, seeks to rectify some of that wrong.

 The second soldier, the one depicted in the middle, represents to my mind, the second batch of Filipino soldiers of the USAPI, who fought with and for America and were part of the forces of liberation that finally drove the Japanese from our Islands. They too, like the members of the USAFFE did not get full recognition as American Nationals fighting in the US Army. Although they were given the modern arms and helmets of the Americans who fought by their side, they too fell victim to the infamous Recission Act of 1946 and they too were not given the same rights as the Americans.

The third batch of warriors depicted to the right of the medal were the Guerrillas, various Resistance groups that sprouted all over Archipelago during the Japanese occupation. Some of the most effective fighting against the Japanese occupiers was done by these guerrilla groups. Many were USAFFE veterans who continued fighting in the mountains and the countryside after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. But most were ordinary civilians, men and women alike, and in some remarkable instances, even children, who picked up the fight against the occupiers with make shift weapons – captured or discarded arms, bolos, spears, bows and arrows. And even when they had no arms, many served as the eyes and ears and propaganda arm of the Resistance. While some guerrilla troops were eventually given recognition by the US Government after the War, thousands were not despite the fact that they too were technically American Nationals.

The front side of the CGM, in enshrining the “faces” of these three Filipino group of warriors, recognizes once for all their war contributions in the Philippine Theater of World War II. It is an acknowledgment that these contributions were important and substantial, and contributed to the defeat of Japan, notwithstanding the Recission Act of 1946 that denigrated and effectively denied the existence of those contributions.

The implications of rear side of the CGM are, to my mind, even more startling and heart warming. First, there is the acknowledgment on the bottom of the medal that this medal is an act of Congress of the United States, not the Congress of the Philippines. On the top of the rear side of the medal are the words, “United States Armed Forces of the Far East,” and not “the Philippine Commonwealth Army.” And in the middle are the key words, “Duty to Country.” Within the context of the message of the entire medal, the country referred to is the United States of America. And in the middle, by way of further affirmation of who is being referred to as having rendered this service to country are the words,” Bataan & Corregidor, Luzon, Leyte, and Southern Philippines,” and the years of the conflict 1941 and 1945.” Interestingly, another year is added, “1946.” What is the significance of “1946” and why is this year in the medal at all? 1946 is when the Philippines gained its independence from the United States. It is a tacit admission that all the Filipinos who served in the USAFFE until then were in fact American Nationals and were legitimately a part of the US Armed Forces, and not just the Philippine Commonwealth Army.

I intend to treasure this CGM that will be awarded to my father tomorrow, November 26, 2109, because it is a symbol of the affirmation that his contribution to the War effort and that of his Filipino Comrades in Arms are not all for naught.

(Rafael E Evangelista, Immediate Past National Commander of the Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor on the occasion of the awarding of the US CGM to Filipino veterans of WW II on 26 November 2019)

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