Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Filipino Veterans Memorial

This Veterans’ Day, I was joined by Congressmember Xavier Becerra and Filipino veterans from around the country at Lake Street Park in the heart of Historic Filipinotown to unveil the nation’s first monument dedicated to the memory of the Filipinos that served for the United States during World War II.

More than 120,000 Filipino soldiers served under the command of General Douglas MacArthur during the war as part of the United States Armed Forces of the Far East. My grandfather fought alongside many of them; thousands died on the Bataan Death March, forced to walk 65 miles to prisoner of war camps with no provisions for food or water.

Shamefully, after the war, the U.S. Congress stripped those soldiers of their U.S. veteran status and the benefits promised them under the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Over the next 50 years, Filipino veterans continued their struggle for recognition as veterans. Finally, in 1990, the Filipino Veterans of WWII won a major victory when the U.S. Congress restored their right to become U.S. citizens. More than 26,000 veterans were naturalized in the next five years.

The long journey from soldier to citizen is one of the most moving untold legacies of WWII. The monument he monument was designed by local artist and CD13 resident Cheri Gaulke, whose previous projects include permanent street medallions in Silver Lake and the Gold Line Station in Pasadena. It commemorates each stage of the Filipino Veterans struggle, with each of the five slabs of black granite that make up the memorial telling a different part of the story. Their service was heroic, as was their fight for recognition in the aftermath of the war. In front of the slabs sits a matching black bench, inscribed with one word in both Tagalog and English that embodies the spirit of the monument behind it, and the spirit of those that served during the war: "Kagitingan," or "valor".