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Filipino Americans Fought With U.S. in WWII, Then Had to Fight for Veterans Benefits

November 11, 2019 in History

By Christopher Klein

Tens of thousands of Filipinos answered the call to fight in World War II when the Philippines was an American commonwealth.

On an early December morning in 1941, waves of Japanese bombers roared through American airspace. While air sirens wailed and guns blazed, American nationals took cover as a surprise attack in the Pacific sank U.S. battleships and crippled the largest aggregation of American warplanes outside of North America.

This Japanese attack didn’t occur on the infamous date of December 7, 1941, however, but a day later on the other side of the International Dateline. And the target wasn’t Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, but the Philippines, which had been an American possession since the 1898 Spanish-American War. Hours after the air raids, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke on the radio to decry the Japanese “bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines.”

After the attacks that drew the United States into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pledged to defend the American commonwealth of the Philippines. “So long as the flag of the United States flies on Filipino soil as a pledge of our duty to your people, it will be defended by our own men to the death,” he said.

A presidential order earlier in the year had brought all military forces in the Philippines under American control in the U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East, and Filipinos answered their commander-in-chief’s call and enlisted by the tens of thousands. As citizens of an American commonwealth, Filipino soldiers were legally American nationals, and Roosevelt promised them the same veterans’ benefits given to members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

General Douglas MacArthur, left, congratulates Captain Villamor of the Philippine Air Force, after awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross, December 22, 1941.

Unlike the lightning strike on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese sustained their attacks on the Philippines in the weeks following the entry of the United States into World War II. After staging an amphibious landing, Japanese forces occupied Manila. Under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, Filipinos fought alongside American soldiers in the Battle of Bataan. After the defeat of the Allied forces and the escape of MacArthur to Australia, Filipinos were among the estimated 10,000 soldiers who died during the Japan-led, 60-mile “Death March” across the Bataan Peninsula.

Even after the surrender of the Philippines in May 1942, Filipino …read more


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