Filipino vets honored 63 years later


POSTED: Saturday, July 04, 2009

More than 100 Filipino World War II veterans, their wives and widows of their comrades were honored yesterday for fighting alongside U.S. troops against Japanese forces.

It took 63 years for the honors to come.

“;I feel like a little boy going up to heaven,”; said Jose Ortego, 83, a former infantry sergeant, at the Waikiki ceremony.

About 120,000 Filipinos joined U.S. forces in 1941 to defend the Philippines, an American commonwealth at the time. They were promised the same benefits as American service members, but Congress took away that offer in 1946 when the Philippines became an independent nation.

An estimated 18,000 Filipino veterans, most in their 80s, are still alive. Congress recently passed legislation to reward the soldiers for their service during World War II.

Filipino veterans are now eligible for a $9,000 payment for non-U.S. citizens and $15,000 for those with U.S. citizenship.

“;I'm happy,”; said Refugio Arcon, 85, who was a machine gunner in the Army who received a Purple Heart for a bullet wound.

He joined the Army at the age of 22 because he wanted to “;free all the people in the Philippines.”;

Salome Calderon, 84, the only female soldier at the event, fought not with a gun, but with intelligence.

“;I'm fighting (through) our reports,”; said the former Army corporal. She rejoiced in her recognition yesterday, saying, “;They gave us this as an opportunity to be honored.”;

The veterans and widows received a medal recognizing them for their bravery.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the keynote speaker at the Hale Koa Hotel event, called the rescinding of the promised benefits a “;shameful”; act.

“;At times I'm saddened and embarrassed that you had to wait this long, but I am still pleased that my country is strong enough and big enough to admit that error,”; he said. “;Your sacrifice will never be forgotten.”;

“;Patience counts much in our lives,”; said Pelagia Concepcion, 77, whose husband was a private in the Army. “;I feel if my husband is not a veteran, I'm not here in Hawaii.”;

Maria Calupig, 78, a widow of a Filipino veteran, said, “;We are grateful for honoring the veterans and also the widows. We don't want our husbands to be forgotten heroes.”;