Sac­ri­fice fi­nally ac­knowl­edged

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Rose­marie Bernardo rbernardo@starad­ver­tiser.com

On a cloudy Tues­day af­ter­noon near the front en­trance of his apart­ment at ‘Ilima at Lei­hano in Kapolei, Domingo Los Banos pointed to a black-and-white photo of 16 World War II sol­diers from Cal­i­for­nia and Hawaii.

At the cen­ter of the photo is a young Los Banos, who was 19 years old when he joined the U.S. Army and was as­signed to the 1st Filipino In­fantry Reg­i­ment.

One of the youngest sol­diers in the unit, he was part of the mop-up op­er­a­tions in the Philippines in 1945.

Among the 16 sol­diers in the photo, Los Banos, now 92, said he is the last sur­vivor.

“I’m the only guy alive,” he said. Los Banos is one of more than 260,000 Filipino and FilipinoAmer­i­can vet­er­ans of World War II who were col­lec­tively hon­ored for their brav­ery with the Con­gres­sional Gold Medal — the na­tion’s high­est civil­ian award by Congress — nearly 75 years af­ter the con­clu­sion of the war.

Be­cause many like Los Banos were un­able to at­tend the cer­e­mony held in Oc­to­ber at the U.S. Capi­tol’s Eman­ci­pa­tion Hall in Washington D.C., re­gional cer­e­monies are be­ing held na­tion­wide by the Filipino Vet­er­ans Recog­ni­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Project to present bronze repli­cas of the medal to vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies.

Abe­lina Madrid Shaw, deputy chair­woman of the Filipino Vet­er­ans Recog­ni­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Project’s Re­gion 11, which cov­ers Hawaii, Alaska and Amer­i­can Samoa, said costly travel ex­penses and the

dis­tance to the East Coast for vet­er­ans from Hawaii were chal­leng­ing. “It was too pro­hib­i­tive.”

On Sun­day, Los Banos will be among more than 35 Filipino WWII vet­er­ans and

100 next of kin to be pre­sented with bronze repli­cas of the medals at a 6:30 p.m. sold-out cer­e­mony at the Hil­ton Hawai­ian Vil­lage Waikiki Beach Re­sort Coral Ball­room.

Event co­or­di­na­tors had orig­i­nally planned to hold the cer­e­mony at the Filipino Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Waipahu, but changed to a larger venue to ac­com­mo­date the more than

700 guests ex­pected.

Gov. David Ige, Hawaii’s con­gres­sional lead­ers and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sis­ter, Maya Soe­toro-Ng, are among the guests ex­pected to at­tend. In De­cem­ber 2016, Obama signed a mea­sure into law that col­lec­tively awarded the Con­gres­sional Gold Medal to more than 260,000 Filipino and FilipinoAmer­i­can sol­diers who re­sponded to the call of duty un­der Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt and fought dur­ing World War II.

Filipino vet­er­ans hon­ored with the medal served in the U.S. Army be­tween July 26, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946, un­der the com­mand of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, Philip­pine Com­mon­wealth Army, Philip­pine Scouts, Philip­pine Con­stab­u­lary, Rec­og­nized Guer­rilla unit, New Philip­pine Scouts, 1st Filipino Reg­i­ment, 2nd Filipino Reg­i­ment, 2nd Filipino In­fantry Bat­tal­ion (Sep­a­rate) and 1st Re­con­nais­sance Bat­tal­ion.

Some of the Filipino sol­diers were se­cretly sent to the Philippines by sub­ma­rine in 1942 to serve as Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur’s eyes and ears as Al­lies pre­pared to re­take the Pa­cific na­tion from Ja­pan.

About 300 from Hawaii from the 1st and 2nd Filipino In­fantry Reg­i­ments were sent to the Philippines to serve un­der MacArthur.

Re­tired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. An­to­nio Taguba; Army Maj. Gen. Bryan Fenton, deputy com­man­der of the U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand on Oahu; and Rear Adm. Vic­torino Mer­cado, di­rec­tor of mar­itime op­er­a­tions of the U.S. Pa­cific Fleet, are ex­pected to present the medals, which were pro­duced by the U.S. mint, to vet­er­ans and next of kin at the cer­e­mony.

The ac­tual gold medal is on dis­play at the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion’s National Mu­seum of Amer­i­can His­tory in Washington, D.C.

Over the past decade, Congress be­stowed el­i­gi­bil­ity of the medal to other mi­nor­ity military units, in­clud­ing the Tuskegee Air­men in 2006; Navajo Code Talk­ers in 2008; Women Air­force Ser­vice Pi­lots in 2009; Ja­panese-Amer­i­can sol­diers of the 100th In­fantry Bat­tal­ion and 442nd Reg­i­men­tal Com­bat Team, and the Military In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, in 2010; Mont­ford Point Marines, the first AfricanAmer­i­cans to serve in the Marine Corps, in 2011; and the 65th In­fantry Reg­i­ment, known as the Bor­in­que­neers, the only His­panic military unit in the Korean War, with a ma­jor­ity of the sol­diers from Puerto Rico, in 2014.

The recog­ni­tion of the Filipino vet­er­ans’ courage and ser­vice is long over­due, as many vet­er­ans have died. To­day, there are about 15,000 to 18,000 sur­viv­ing vet­er­ans in the U.S. and Philippines and most are in their 90s.

Los Banos, born in Wahi­awa, had been at­tend­ing the Univer­sity of Hawaii for a year when he joined the Army af­ter his brother, Al­fred, was drafted.

Los Banos was one of about 300 sol­diers of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Reg­i­ments, which he refers to as the “Hawaii Boys.” To­day, Los Banos said he is only one of five or so re­main­ing vet­er­ans from Hawaii.

He re­called how over­whelmed he was in the thick jun­gles of Sa­mar as part of the mop-up op­er­a­tions against the Ja­panese sol­diers in 1945. “I prayed to God, ‘Get me out of harm’s way and I’ll be­come a teacher.’”

Ja­pan soon sur­ren­dered to the U.S.

While his four broth­ers pur­sued military ca­reers, Los Banos pur­sued a ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion. He be­came a teacher, prin­ci­pal and Lee­ward dis­trict su­per­in­ten­dent with the Hawaii State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Pas­sion­ate about shar­ing the story of the role of Filipino forces dur­ing the war, he served as an ad­viser and helped raise funds for the doc­u­men­tary, “An Un­told Tri­umph: Amer­ica’s Filipino Sol­diers.”

They played a vi­tal part in the war, Los Banos said.

Los Banos gives recog­ni­tion to the Filipino sol­diers who fought in the Philippines be­fore the ar­rival of the 1st and 2nd Filipino In­fantry Reg­i­ments.

His son, Todd Los Banos, said the Con­gres­sional Gold Medal is an honor for his fa­ther and fel­low vet­er­ans.

“For all of us, we’re just happy,” said his son, who plans to at­tend Sun­day’s cer­e­mony with his mother, Mary Los Banos, and sis­ter, Tas­niya Kawamoto.

He said his fa­ther’s “great­est pur­pose” is to pro­mote the recog­ni­tion of Filipino World War II sol­diers for their ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. “Only now, they’re be­ing rec­og­nized for that.”

From serv­ing his coun­try in the war to serv­ing the com­mu­nity as an ed­u­ca­tor, Los Banos’ life is cen­tered on serv­ing oth­ers, his son added.

Spry and per­sis­tent, Los Banos con­tin­ues to pur­sue his goal of ed­u­cat­ing the public about the his­tory of Filipino World War II vet­er­ans.

He cur­rently serves as a mem­ber of the Filipino Vet­er­ans of WWII-Art Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, where plans are un­der­way to build a Hawaii mon­u­ment to honor Filipino World War II vet­er­ans.

“There’s no way you can slow him down,” his son said.

For all of us, we’re just happy. … Only now, they’re be­ing rec­og­nized for that (their military ser­vice).”

Todd Los Banos

His fa­ther, Domingo Los Banos, above, served in the 1st Filipino In­fantry Reg­i­ment and will be one of those hon­ored for their ser­vice Sun­day.

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

“I’m the only guy alive (in the photo),” said Domingo Los Banos hold­ing a group pic­ture of him­self (bot­tom row cen­ter) with military bud­dies two days af­ter the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Los Banos, who served in the

1st Filipino In­fantry Reg­i­ment, will be hon­ored with a bronze replica of the Con­gres­sional Gold Medal Sun­day at the Hil­ton

Hawai­ian Vil­lage Waikiki Beach Re­sort Coral Ball­room.

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

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