By Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — On a warm sunny day, Filipino WWII veterans and their supporters came out in full force celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the Leyte Landing at the Los Angeles National Cemetery last October 20.
Filipino WWII soldiers stood on hollowed grounds where more than 86,000 patriots were buried. They listened to the national anthem, the sound of the bugler’s trumpets playing Taps, and watched the ceremonial folding of the flag.
“This program is a salute to the greatest generation of soldiers of all time, those who liberated us from tyranny and oppression,” said Filipino Veterans Foundation Executive Director Dr. Jenny Batongmalaque.
On Oct. 20, 1944 Gen. Douglas MacArthur along with US troops landed in three beaches in Leyte, Philippines – San Jose, Dulag and Himayangan. The landing marks the spot where MacArthur and US troops returned after a two-year layoff. It also heralded the offensive campaign against the Imperial Japanese Army, the beginning of the end of Japanese rule in the country.
It was reported that upon landing on the beach, MacArthur famously cried out, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!”
US Air Force Honor Guards, members of the US Navy, the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society, and a large number of Filipino WWII veterans, widows, and their supporters, were among those who joined in the one-hour celebration.
The occasion also honored two WWII soldiers who recently passed away – US Navy Officer William Homer House and WWII Philippine Scout Mariano Loria. House passed away last September 13 at the age of 81. Loria, also in his 80’s, passed away last October 3.
Batongmalaque said the two veterans epitomized the sacrifice American and Filipino soldiers did to liberate the Philippines.
“They fought side by side to redeem the Philippines for freedom and democracy,” she said.
House was only 18 years old when he joined the US Navy. He was among several troops who landed in Leyte. As part of the US Navy Construction Battalion unit during WWII, he helped build airstrips and command posts for the Armed Forces in Central Luzon. After the war, he stayed in the Philippines and learned to speak Tagalog.
“He never forgot the times he spent in the Philippines,” said Batongmalaque, who was a close family friend of House.
“The Filipino veterans loved him because he could speak Tagalog. House never opened up to his family about his experiences in WWII but he did open up when he was with Filipino WWII veterans. He [House] fought for their cause and believed they should have their benefits,” she added.
Loria was part of a guerrilla unit during WWII in the Philippines. He joined the Philippine Scout and continued his service in the Philippine Air Force. After the war, he and his family immigrated to the US. He also fought for the passage of the FilVet Equity Bill until he succumbed to a brain hemorrhage.
Batongmalaque said Americans and Filipinos share a common lineage.
“This event elevates the awareness of American families that their fathers and grandfathers in their youth were among those who went to the Philippines and fought alongside Filipino veterans in the war,” she added.
House’s relatives were present. US Navy Capt. Greg Akers handed the folded flag to Brad House.
Fighting for Recognition
Sixty-three years after the war ended, Filipino WWII veterans are still fighting. This time it’s for their recognition and contribution in WWII.
“This is another reason why we celebrate this event,” said Batongmalaque. “We want our Filipino veterans to be part of the entire veteran’s world. When you know them one-on-one it personalizes their stories.”
“The bottom line is, both nations (the Philippines and US) were of one mind, one heart, and one soul in fighting for the same cause, which is freedom and democracy,” added Dr. Rico Jose, a visiting professor from the University of the Philippines. “This bond resonates even today, and long after every single one of those who fought in WWII are gone. It is fitting that we keep these historical events in our minds to remind us of the sacrifice they made.”
Rep. Filner Updates
In a taped video shown during the luncheon after the ceremony, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) issued a statement on the significance of the Leyte landing and updated the progress of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act bill in Congress.
“This is a salute to the greatest generation, the liberators of freedom and democracy,” said Filner.
Filner announce that he is continuing to work with Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to bring the Filipino Veterans Equity bill to the House of Representatives and the Senate for debate “as soon as possible.”
“This is the closest to our goal since we’ve introduced this bill in Congress and the many, many years we’ve been fighting for equity,” he added. “The wheels are in motion and both [Senate Veterans’ Committee] Chairman Akaka and I are fully committed to the passage of this bill.”