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Filipino Veterans Honored More Than 70 Years After War

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The more than 200,000 Filipinos who served in the U.S. military during World War II are being honored with the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal on Oct. 25.

Of the 260,000 Filipino troops who served during the war, more than 57,000 died, according to USA Today.

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt established the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East to encourage Filipinos to join the Army with the prospect of receiving full veterans' benefits.

However, President Harry Truman rescinded the commitment to provide veterans' benefits after the war.

Celestino Almeda, now 100-years-old, served during the war and has protested to gain recognition for the sacrifices Filipino soldiers made. Around 10 years ago, Almeda chained himself to the White House fence because he felt the U.S. government was not doing enough to provide for the veterans.

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"Why was America turning their back away from the veterans?" Almeda said, recalling the motivation for the protest, according to USA Today.

Almeda will attend the medal ceremony and is scheduled to deliver remarks.

"This is not only my triumph to receive the medal, but the triumph of my colleagues who were with me, but unluckily some of them passed away," he added.

Almeda recalled his experience during the war in an interview with the Daily Inquirer.

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“On December 8, 1941, the Japanese bombed Manila,“ he told the Inquirer. “When the war broke out, I was a teacher at Arellano High School. But the city was in total chaos, and eventually I joined the guerilla unit.”

The guerrillas, supported by U.S. forces, fought Japanese troops.

Almeda went on to explain how he has written a number of letters to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs since 2000 asking for recognition for his service.

"In every letter of denial that I received, the U.S. Department of Veterans insisted that there's no written document about my military service," added Almeda. "I told them 'Look, everything was in verbal at the time. No one would sign a piece of paper while you were in the battleground.'"

The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project was set up in 2014 and advocated for legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the veterans. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law in December 2016.

"It was historical," said Antonio Taguba, chairman of the project and a retired U.S. Army major general. "It was a phenomenal achievement, not just for our group, but for our entire country and also for the Philippines."

However, Almeda and many of his surviving colleagues continue to be denied full veterans' benefits. In 2009, a provision signed into law by Obama agreed to a one-time payout to Filipino veterans of $15,000 for U.S. citizens and $9,000 for non-U.S. citizens.

Sources: USA Today, Daily Inquirer / Featured image: Mike Wright via Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr / Embedded Images: Justin P. Nesbitt via NavSource Naval History, Chuck Kennedy/Executive Office of the President of the United States via Wikimedia Commons

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