Filipino-American World War II Veterans reunite for ‘last hurrah’

This article was originally featured on The Filipino Chronicle on Saturday, November 16, 2013.


Domingo Los Banos as a young U.S. soldier (photo courtesy of Los Banos).

“All my buddies are gone,” said Domingo Los Banos as he lingered on a photo of him and his comrades celebrating his birthday and eating snickers on their way back to San Francisco right after World War II ended.

Los Banos is one out of the dwindling numbers of Filipino American veterans from Hawai`I who joined the first and second Filipino infantry regiment of the United States Army during WWII.

He, along with the WWII Veterans Celebration Committee and the Filipino-American Society of Hawaii (FAHSOH) planned the two-day “Last Hurrah” celebration for the members of the regiment, the Comrades of the Philippine Scouts, recognized guerrilla units and the Ladies Auxiliaries.

Filipino-American Veterans march under a salute of swords by some students from the Waipahu High School ROTC. Nearly three hundred were in attendance to honor the legacy of these heroic men and women at the Filipino Community (Fil-Com) Center in Waipahu on November 16. The luncheon began with a parade of colors by Waipahu High School’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) students.

Filipino-American Veterans march under a salute of swords by some students from the Waipahu High School ROTC.

Hardly any eyes remained dry in the ballroom as the song “Taps” reverberated through the room in remembrance of those whose lives were taken by the war.

The event also commemorated the 20th anniversary celebration of the Hawaii Chapter WWII Filipino-American Veterans and Ladies Auxiliaries and the 10th anniversary since a community-funded memorial was dedicated to them. The Memorial was shown on-screen accompanied by the Ladies Auxiliaries performance of the Bataan March Song.

Those in attendance were greeted by Governor Neil Abercrombie, Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Senator Daniel Akaka, Consul General of the Philippines Julius Torres and former vice speaker of the House of Representatives Michael Magaoay.

The women of the Ladies Auxiliaries sang the “Bataan March” song.

The honorees were presented with gifts including an exclusive hat featuring the flags of both the U.S. and the Philippines and a photo souvenir book commemorating the Last Hurrah.

Funds raised by the luncheon were allocated to the Veterans Special Account, which will be used to provide financial assistance to these veterans for funeral and burial purposes.

The celebration continued into the next day as the honorees paid their respects to the courageous fallen soldiers of WWII by laying a large wreath at the Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial.

The Last Hurrah officially concluded with a special public screening of the documentary “An Untold Triumph held at the museum.


An Untold Triumph

An Untold Triumph highlights the bravery of the First and Second Filipino Infantry Regiment of the United States Army in WWII, whose critical role in the war has been largely muted.

This documentary illustrates the remarkable intensity and endurance of the Filipino spirit. The film is a tribute to all of the Filipino Veterans including the Philippine Scouts, Philippine Army and Guerrilla forces, whose sacrifices and efforts led to the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese control.

The award-winning documentary “An Untold Triumph” was shown at the USS Arizona Memorial Park.

The film goes beyond teaching a lesson in history.  Director and Producer Noel Izon journeys the audience from an early racist America where the future for Filipino immigrants looked dismal. By the end of the film, the story comes full circle with the unyielding patriotism of the Filipino-Americans fighting for the U.S. in the Philippines.

Personal accounts from the veterans themselves are accompanied by real photographs and video footage from WWII.

The film originally premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival in November 2002 and won the festival’s Blockbuster Video Audience Award for best documentary.

Stephanie Castillo, Los Banos and Linda Revilla were associate producers and writers for this documentary.

A History

After becoming an American colony following the brutal Philippie-American war, Filipinos soon made up the largest Asian and immigrant population in the United States in the early 1900s. They had come to seek the American Dream but instead were segregated into a nightmare of cheap labor, terrible housing conditions and anti-miscegenation laws that prevented interracial marriage.

Despite the popular anti-filipino sentiment in the U.S., these men did not hesitate to answer America’s call-to-arms during WWII.

In 1941 the Japanese attacked the Philippines, which was guarded at the time by The Philippine Army, American-trained Philippine Scouts and Armed American forces alongside General Douglas MacArthur, military advisor of the Philippine Government and Commander of the U.S. forces in the Far East.

General MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines while his troops continued to defend the Philippines. His famous departing words, “I shall return” resonated in the hearts of the soldiers left behind.

Veteran Narzal Concepcion, historian, presented a board of photos depicting World War 2.

Eventually the Philippine and American forces were forced to surrender. Seventy thousand American and Filipino prisoners of war marched 100 miles in the inhumane Bataan death march. Nine thousand men out of an estimated 45,000 Filipinos never made it to the concentration camp.

As violent war ensued in the Philippines, Filipino immigrants and sons of Filipino immigrants from all over the U.S. rallied together to petition for all Filipino fighting battalion. Filipinos were finally allowed to join the service in 1942. Thousands enlisted in droves, presented with the opportunity to prove their loyalty to America and driven by a passion to defend their native Philippines.

Dixon Campos, of the first Filipino infantry regiment, who was 18 when he joined, recalled that the other soldiers were mainly older men in their 30s and 40s.

“There were people who lied about their age to stay in the army,” said Campos. “I even knew someone who was 50 years old at the time.”

Eight hundred Filipino men were carefully handpicked from the regiment to be trained as spies by the Green Berets and learned radio, reconnaissance and map-reading skills. They were taken to Camp X, the Allied Intelligence Bureau’s Secret Training Facility in Australia. These men became formed the backbone of the First Reconnaissance Battalion, a special forces unit who acted as General MacArthur’s “eyes and ears” in occupied Philippines.

The Veterans gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial on Nov. 17, 2013 to say goodbye to their fallen comrades.

Members of the Reconnaissance Battalion were also paratroopers who rescued three injured Americans in what became known as the famous Shangri-La story in  New Guinea.

Cecil Earl Walters, AIB paratroop trainer recounted “how little fear these men had…no refusals, no hesistations about jumping, they were all gung ho, ready to go, well I should say bahala na.”

The Veterans gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial on Nov. 17, 2013 to say goodbye to their fallen comrades.

“Bahala Na” was the motto of the First Reconnaissance Battalion and can be interpreted as “Go with God.”

By 1944, submarines were routinely moving in and out of Philippine waters, delivering supplies to Guerrilla leaders. General MacArthur finally returned to the Philippines and headed towards Cabanatuan Prison, which was holding five hundred American POWs hostage.

All of the prisoners were freed during the “Great Raid” on Cabanatuan, which proved to be the most successful mission of its kind in U.S. military history. However, none of it was possible without the help of the Philippine Guerrilla units who prevented Japanese reinforcements from coming in.

“The Guerrillas had the biggest fight, they made that raid possible,” said Sixth Ranger Battalion team member Herbert Wolff.

Three hundred comrades of the “Hawaii Connection” were replacements to the first and second Filipino Infantry Regiment. Their main task was to eliminate the remaining Japanese troops in the islands, also referred to as “mopping up the enemy.”

It was a messy situation for the Hawaii Boys as Los Banos remembers a contract he made with God at the time. “

Just before the war ended I asked God, ‘get me out of this mess’ and he did… the atomic bomb dropped the next day, the war’s over,” said Los Banos.

After the war, many of the Filipino-American soldiers married local Filipinas and returned to America with their war brides, planting the seeds of the first Filipino families and growing Filipino communities throughout the U.S. Other American-born Filipino soldiers took advantage of the GI Bill to pursue college degrees while some continued their services in the U.S. army.

What Now?

“I pity my comrades who have no records or could not get the compensation but they fought with the Americans, we fought side by side,” said Feliciano Barroga Sr, who was twenty years old when he became a spy for the U.S. forces in the Philippines.

He is now 88 years old.

Feliciano Barroga Sr. was a guerrilla fighter for the U.S. in the Philippines during World War 2.

Barroga Sr. is among the many guerrillas and Philippine Scouts who fought with American troops under the promise of U.S. citizenship and full veterans rights. However, the U.S. reneged this promise after the Philippines was granted independence in 1946.

Nearly 70 years later, the veterans who are still alive continue to pursue healthcare benefits, pensions and survivor and burial rights as well as the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act which will allow their children to bypass the Philippine immigration quota and join them in the U.S. before time runs out.

“The vets are growing old, weak, sickly and many are dying every year,” said 89 year-old Filipino WW2 Veteran Artemio Caleda,

President Barack Obama tried to correct this injustice under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by offering a lump sum payment of $15,000 to Filipino Veterans residing in the U.S. and $9,000 to non-U.S. citizens.

However, many were excluded from collecting anything at all.

“They are asking about my medical records, there were no records at that time,” said Barroga Sr. “If you have no records in the hospital, your claim will be denied, that’s very discriminating.”

Ethnic Studies Professor Roderick Labrador, at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, explained that there is still a large number of veterans who haven’t received payments and that the lump sum did not account for widows or dependents.

In that sense, “this is why the struggle continues” said Labrador.

“They (guerrillas and Philippine Scouts) played such a great part in resisting the Japanese when everything was so discouraging and fruitless,” said Los Banos. “I am very disappointed in the lack of support of the congressional leaders in granting these Filipino soldiers what is due them.”