Araw ng Kagitingan: Honoring our heroes and their valor
 
 
 
 
 
 

Araw ng Kagitingan: Remembering our heroes, honoring their valor

The 'Day of Valor' honors the thousands who fought in one of the last stands of American and Filipino soldiers during World War II
/ 07:03 PM April 10, 2024

Araw ng Kagitingan

Filipino World War II veterans’ families, friends and advocates gather at the National World War II Memorial. CONTRIBUTED

WASHINGTON – As they do every year on April 9, Filipino World War II veterans’ families, friends and advocates gathered at the National World War II Memorial in Washington DC, dedicated to the women and men who fought in America’s war.

Filipino soldiers were among those on the battlefront from December 1941 to April 9, 1942, fighting under the American flag. But it was only seven years ago when the US recognized their service and sacrifice.

 “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor), formerly known as the “Fall of Bataan,” was held to honor the thousands who fought in one of the last stands of American and Filipino soldiers before they were forced to surrender to Japanese forces. In the infamous Bataan Death March, more than 10,000 died during the 60-mile march to prison camps.

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Led by the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), this year’s commemoration was preceded by a celestial event – the total solar eclipse that swept across North America on April 8.

The following morning, blessed by warm weather and sunny skies, the April 9th “Day of Valor” was witnessed by hundreds of tourists from across the country, many of whom heard for the first time the heroic and patriotic service of Filipino and American soldiers and sailors in the Philippines during World War II.

Araw ng Kagitingan

FilVetREP Chairman Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. CONTRIBUTED

FilVetREP Chairman Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret) described Bataan and Corregidor  as “not just battlefields.”

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“They are hallowed grounds where thousands of Filipinos and Americans, men and women, fought to defend their homeland in the Philippines, and for a country far away – the United States of America,” he said. “The huge losses of lives in battle, in captivity, from hunger and disease, many still missing in action, and those wounded for life, were interminable.”

Araw ng Kagitingan

Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez (left). CONTRIBUTED

In his remarks, Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez paid tribute to Filipino and American soldiers who “valiantly battled Japanese forces to defend our land, our people and our future.”

“We should continue to ensure that younger and future generations remember their service and embrace their virtues of resilience, patriotism and sacrifice,” he said.

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Unbowed and undeterred

When the Memorial opened 20 years ago, there were more than two dozen Filipino veterans living in the DC area. Today, only two remain: 96-year-old Rey Cabacar and 96-year-old Rudy Panaglima.

Along with their comrades, they had organized themselves as the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV), under the leadership of Captain Pat Ganio. They felt humiliated that Congress had passed the Rescission Act in 1946, barely a year after the US had declared victory.

But this victory was not meant for the 260,000 Filipinos who served and died under the American flag. Unbowed and undeterred, these aging and ailing soldiers staged protest actions in front of the White House. They walked the halls of Congress to demand what was promised them.

In 2009, about 18,000 veterans received a one-time payment of $15,000 through the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund. Filipino veterans residing in the Philippines received $9,000.

The late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who championed the cause of Filipino World War II veterans in Congress, made this benefit possible. In 2016, largely through Sen. Mazie Hirono’s effort, FilVetREP successfully secured legislation that awarded the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December that year.

Araw ng Kagitingan

WWII veteran Rey Cabacar, 96, and his family join members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5471 at the April 9 ceremony. CONTRIBUTED

Cabacar and his family attended Tuesday’s ceremony, along with officers and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5471, of which he was a former commander. Also in attendance were a dozen midshipmen from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD., Philippine Embassy officials and military attaches and Filipino American community leaders.

Congressional Gold Medal

Following the “Day of Valor” event was a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony held at the Philippine Embassy. Honored were World War II veterans who had passed away: Sgt. Alfonso O. Torre, Capt. Dominador Gregorio, 2nd Lt. Tiburcio Manguiran and Victor Villadolid. Accepting the medals on their behalf were their grandsons and granddaughters, and a widow, Fe Rael Villadolid.

“This award ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime event for many here today, especially the families of our veterans,” Taguba said. “This is the 109th award ceremony we have conducted.”

White Sands

Last month, FilVetREP leaders and supporters joined more than 5,000 participants in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March (BMDM) in White Sands, New Mexico. The march along the rugged terrain of ankle-deep sand, gravel and rolling hills has been known as the most grueling in the US.

FilVetREP’s presence at the event in the last eight years has raised greater awareness of the plight of Filipino soldiers who were deprived of their rightful benefits by the 1946 Rescission Acts. Although the memorial march has been going on for 35 years, it has only been known recently that Bataan is in the Philippines.

Today, the Philippine flag is prominently displayed and the Philippine National Anthem is sung at BMDM’s ceremonies. Many marchers proudly display Philippine insignias on their back packs. On their shirts are printed names and pictures of loved ones who marched in Bataan.

Araw ng Kagitingan

FilVetREP leaders and supporters join more than 5,000 Bataan Memorial Death March (BMDM) participants in White Sands, New Mexico. CONTRIBUTED

Active history lessons

As annual events, the Bataan Memorial Death March and the April 9 Day of Valor are active history lessons.

“They remind us of a proud legacy of service and sacrifice,” said Taguba. “They inspire us to continue telling their stories and keep them alive for posterity. For their staunch defense of freedom and democracy, we must make sure they did not die in vain.”

To preserve their legacy, FilVetREP embarked on developing an education program in 2017, titled “Duty to Country.” It is currently used in seven states – California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington State.

The curriculum is being taught by 22 teachers in elementary, middle schools, high schools and colleges. As a result, more than 2,400 students are learning the history of US-Philippine relationship dating back to 1898.

An award-winning education program, www.dutytocountry.org was approved and fully funded by the US Department of Education.

(Photos by Bing Branigin and Matthew Aninzo)

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TAGS: Featured, Fil-Am, Filipino veterans
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