A combat veteran reflects on WWII Filipino soldiers’ long fought battle for equality that continued long after the Germans surrendered in 1945. It wasn’t until recently that the California government decided to recognize these forgotten Filipino veterans.
By Jeffrey Ledesma
War has the power to change soldiers’ souls. The unthinkable acts they see, the horrible sounds they hear, and the pungent smells they inhale all burn permanent marks in their minds.
For the Filipino veterans who served alongside American soldiers in the Second World War, the battle for equality continued for decades after the war ended.
After fighting for a country they believed was their own, they were the only ethnic group of soldiers stripped of their benefits because of their immigration status. Consequently, they became the forgotten heroes erased from the rosters.
On the Assembly floor, Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), author of the WWII Filipino Veterans in Curriculum bill, explained the urgency to acknowledge the forgotten Filipino soldiers and their contributions to the war.
“Many of the Filipino veterans of WWII are aging and dying,” Ma said. “It is important to ensure that their stories are not lost. They deserve our recognition and respect in our history.”
Although the Assembly passed AB 199 in April with a 72-0 vote, Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t sign the bill into law until early this month. While many advocates for Filipino veteran rights were thrilled, some people didn’t make it.
Peping Baclig was a Filipino veteran who passed away earlier this year. Baclig was one of the last 18,000 remaining Filipino WWII veterans out of 200,000 who served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Baclig survived the Bataan Death March when the Imperial Japanese army forced 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war to march for miles after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during WWII.
Thousands of prisoners died during the transfer.
Congressional records shed light on the march that is still remembered today. “They were beaten, and they were starved as they marched. Those who fell were bayoneted,” the records state. “Some of those who fell were beheaded by Japanese officers who were practicing with their samurai swords from horseback.”
In an emotionally-charged public service announcement for the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equality, Baclig urges the viewers to fight for liberty, equality and justice for the Filipino American WWII veteran.
“To be on equal footing with anybody who served with me, that’s what I want. I fought for democracy,” Baclig emotionally said as he wiped tears from his face with an American flag handkerchief. “Will you do the same?”
According to the Asian Journal, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 199 on October 8 to recognize Filipinos in WWII in the state’s Social Studies curriculum. It encourages schools “to include instruction on World War II and the role of Filipinos… who fought courageously in the U.S. Army.”
Despite being progressive landmark in civil rights, it’s upsetting to know that many like Baclig weren’t able to see this dream of equality become reality. They weren’t saluted for their honorable service. They weren’t acknowledged for their sacrifices. But at least now, they won’t be forgotten.
As a Filipino, an American, and a combat veteran, I cannot help but feel strongly tied to the Filipino soldiers who came before me.
They fought an uphill battle for democracy. They fought so we could fight. So, please fight. Fight for liberty, fight for equality, fight for justice – wherever and whenever it is denied.
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