Back to News

Finally recognized

Filipino-American WWII veterans honored

Jessie Castro, a surviving WWII veteran of the Filipino-American fight against the Japanese, receives his Congressional Gold Medal from retired BG Oscar Hilman and Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Jessie Castro, Vitaliano Bantiles and Lenenor Jimenez had waited over 75 years to receive due recognition for their service alongside American forces pitted against the Japanese Army in the Philippines during World War II.

Joining the three surviving veterans were the next of kin of 57 other Filipino-Americans who received the honor in the presence of over 300 attendees last Saturday at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC).

The Gold Medal is one of the nation's highest awards bestowed to individuals, institutions or groups that have performed outstanding achievement that has had an impact on American history and culture.

Designed by the United States Mint to commemorate the person and the achievement, the medals are therefore different in appearance; in this case, the service Filipinos rendered to the United States during the Second World War.

For the 60 honorees, the recognition for their acts became a reality with the passage of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Medal Act in November 2016.

During WWII, the APCC served as a USO Center. This irony was not lost on State Senator Steve Conway, 29th District.

"American soldiers gathered here then, just as we are gathered here now," he told the audience. "Those soldiers -- some of whom fought in the Philippines -- join in congratulating you for finally being recognized."

In July 1946, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an order directing all organized military forces in the Philippines to be placed under U.S. Army command. Over 260,000 Filipino soldiers fought alongside American soldiers under the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East.  Some 60,000 of these soldiers perished in combat, and thousands more were wounded or are Missing in Action.

"I am deeply troubled that it took 75 years to get to this day," continued Conway. "These soldiers, scouts and guerilla fighters sacrificed much for our freedom, and this has been left out of our American history."

The driving force in raising national awareness on this issue is the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). The organization works through academic research and public education to recognize Filipino and American veterans who served from July 26, 1941, to Dec. 31, 1946.

"We must continue to educate about this project," continued Conway, "and education is the next step."

Sitting next to Bantiles and behind Jimenez, Castro, was all smiles.

"He rarely talks about the war," said his daughter, Clemencia Castro-Woolery, during a telephone interview. "He fought in the jungle; he did what he had to do."

She related that her father was a 14-year-old guerilla fighter whose father had been tortured and his brother killed.

After the war, he became an attorney, came to America with his wife and raised a family.

"He is very excited about today; his family is here with him," she concluded. "This is history in the making."

For more information about the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, visit or contact Tony Taguba at

comments powered by Disqus