The Battle for Justice Isn't Over
By Jon Melegrito
Letter from Washington
They never sought fame, recognition or reward. They were ordinary people who set extraordinary examples by their bravery and courage. For the most part, those who survived the war lived quietly. And they died the same way.
"Nobody ever said thank you to them," says Ret. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a proud son of a vet. His father, Tomas Taguba, was a U.S. Army Sergeant and Philippine Scout who fought in the Battle of Bataan during World War II. Captured and abused as a prisoner of war in 1942, he survived the Death March and lived a quiet life in Hawaii until his death in 2011. He was 92.
Above Photo: Filipino World War II veterans rally in front of the White House in the summer of 1997. (Photo by Paul Tanedo)
Taguba's father was 24 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. As a truck driver, he was assigned to haul ammunition and food supplies to the front lines in Bataan and Corregidor. He escaped the Death March, joined the guerillas and for three years served a vital role reporting on Japanese movements in his home province of Isabella.
"But it took 54 years for the U.S. Army to recognize my father's service," Taguba says. "On his 80th birthday, to his surprise, he received two medals. While it was a special honor for me and my family, there are thousands more like my father who sought not to be recognized, only to be appreciated. Despite their service, hopes for recognition disappeared, and their benefits minimized, after passage of the Rescission Acts of 1946. Today, less than 20,000 veterans survive, and hundreds more will pass away in the near future."
In the last six months, Taguba and a group of advocates have been working on a project to seek national recognition for our veterans and thank them for their honorable service in defense of the Philippines and the U.S. The goals are for Congress to issue a proclamation, pass legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the soldiers and survivors and implement a national exhibition program in coordination with the Smithsonian Institution and an educational curriculum for public schools.
Taguba notes that other minority groups of soldiers, like the Japanese American Nisei, Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Talkers and Women Air Service Pilots (WASP) have received their due. They all have been nationally recognized and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the nation.
"There is no statute of limitations in recognizing our veterans," Taguba declares. "The time has come for them to be similarly remembered. They risked their lives to give us the life we enjoy so freely today. We must repay them with the same vigor and enthusiasm that's expected of them and their generation."
My father, Gregorio Melegrito, would have been 97 this month. He died eight years ago, proud of his service as an American soldier. I will continue to honor him and his comrades by making sure they are not forgotten.
Update On TPS
Activists, led by the Relief 2 Recovery Coalition, have been on a full court press to force a decision by the Department of Homeland Security to grant Tempory Protected Status (TPS) to an estimated 270,000 undocumented Filipino immigrants. This would allow them to help their families who have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan without being harassed by Immigration officials. Intense pressure in the last few weeks included meetings with DHS and State Department officials, letters, e-mails and phone calls. Apparently, senior level officials at state have already made a recommendation to Secretary John Kerry, an important step in the approval process. At press time, DHS has not made the call. Until then, activists have vowed to press on.