The US Con­gres­sional Gold Medal

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

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 the 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, Nov. 26, 2019, 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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