Filipino veterans of World War II will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, after a lengthy battle for national recognition of their U.S. military service and sacrifices nearly 75 years ago.
The medal is the highest civilian award and will be presented at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol to honor the 260,000 Filipinos who fought alongside American forces during the war and more than 57,000 Filipino troops who died.
Their service began in 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East, offering full veterans’ benefits to Filipinos who enlisted. The Philippines at that time was a U.S. commonwealth, and Filipinos were U.S. nationals.
But once the war ended, the benefits were quickly rescinded by President Harry Truman in 1946, and the Filipinos who served were stripped of their status as U.S. veterans. The Philippines was singled out from the 66 nations allied with the U.S. during the war.
Many relatives and supporters of the veterans say not nearly enough has been done to recognize their sacrifices.
“If you look at what they did, why? The services that were rendered by the Filipinos was nothing,” said World War II veteran Remigio Cabacar, 90, a native of the Philippines who lives in Fort Washington, Md.
Celestino Almeda, 100, is a Filipino World War II veteran who immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 and lives in Gaithersburg, Md. During a protest about a decade ago, he said he chained himself to the White House fence because the U.S. was not providing the benefits promised to veterans like him.
"Why was America turning their back away from the veterans?” Almeda recalled.
Now, Almeda plans to be at Wednesday's ceremony and is scheduled to give 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." Almeda said.
The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, established in 2014, pushed for legislation to bestow the medal to the veterans, and President Barack Obama signed it into law on Dec. 14, 2016.
"It was historical. It was a phenomenal achievement, not just for our group but for our entire country and also for the Philippines,” said Antonio Taguba, chairman of the recognition project and a retired U.S. Army major general.
The group plans to place the gold medal in a museum and will create an educational program to preserve the history of the Filipino veterans.
“We ought to have this as a great celebration," Taguba said. “And we say to our veterans, thank you, thank you, thank you, for your service to this country."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Filipino World War II veterans to get Congressional Gold Medal