Almost ninety more living veterans and next of kin were given their much-deserved Congressional Gold Medals (CGM) in an awarding ceremony held at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco recently.
Of the number of awardees, those who stood out were the living ones, namely, Mr. Eduardo Alonso, Mr. Alfredo Carino, Mr. Felix Pabros, Mr. Nestor Palma, Mr. Aniano Triunfo, Mr. Johnny Valencia, and Mr. Gerard Villanueva who despite their advanced age were able to make it to received the medals personally
They were part of the 88 new awardees that were added to some 419 other recipients in California who were given their medals since 2017.
Among the dignitaries that came to witness the event were Philippine Consul-General to San Francisco Henry Bensurto, San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, Retired Lieutenant General Edward Soriano, Retired Major General Eldon Regua, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Chang, Command Sergeant Major John Beleno, Miguel Guerrero from the Office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Atty. Lourdes Tancinco, President of the Board of Directors of the Bayanihan Equity Center, and Luisa Antonio, Executive Director of the Bayanihan Equity Center, among others.
In an interview before the start of the event proper, 97-year-old living veteran Eduardo Alonzo who hails from Cavite City but stayed in Olongapo City where he worked after the war was just to glad to finally get the medal he richly deserved.
“Mabuti naman isang honor yata ito bihira yata ang nabibigyan ng ganitong pagkakataon. Napakahirap noong giyera. Kung maaari sana huwag nang magkaroon ng giyera pa ulit,” uttered Alonzo.
(“It is good that they gave us this medal and it is an honor to be given this rare chance. It is hard to be in a war. If it is possible, I hope there would never be another war,”, uttered Alonzo.)
Haney reminded that the veterans wanted recognition and respect and the event was a great time to give it to the war heroes and their families.
“More than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino American soldiers who answered the call of duty to serve in World War II were loyal and brave soldiers who have sacrificed greatly but whose services were not recognized in the United States for decades,” rued Haney.
In her speech, Tancinco recalled that there were more than 750,000 to one million Filipinos who lost their lives in World War II.
“Despite the importance of their roles their bravery and sacrifices in the war, the labor and sacrifices of the veterans continue beyond the war itself. For seventy years more than half a century, veterans have to struggle to fight for what they deserve, fight for their right.
Thousand of Filipino veterans were deprived of becoming U.S. citizens and had to fight it out until the Immigration Act of 1990 was enacted. From 1990 up to the present, they fought for benefits in equity with other U.S. veterans,” Tancinco recounted.
Tancinco also lamented that “time is no longer in our hands as we may no longer have as much time for this type of awarding ceremony” as many of the veterans are dying by the day due mainly to their age and health conditions..
Bensurto, for his part, emphasized the need for everyone to never forget the sacrifices of the war veterans and continue honoring their legacy.
“It is crucial that our youth and the generations to come be taught about the heroism of our Filipino veterans. Our history must continuously be shared in order not to be forgotten, and it is through learning about the courage of those who fought that we get to realize that we ourselves could be heroes within our communities and beyond,” Bensurto reiterates.
Bensurto repeated that the Consulate seeks to create a spark among the youth, to connect them to like-minded individuals who share the same passion, and to empower them to engage in activities that will sustain the link between future generations and the Philippines.
Among those who came to witness the momentous event for their loved ones was Hawaii-based Antonia Agbannawag who would not miss attending the honor being given her grandfather Joseph with her grandmother and honoree’s wife Teresa
“I always knew in my heart that he is a hero but seeing now that this awarding of the medal is really happening and the recognition that was taking place for the Filipino World War II veterans over the last couple of years and really seeing what an honor that is in the national level caused us to look more into our history and their services,” Antonia beamed.
Retired medical doctor from Delano CA Arturo Abalos’s was proud that his father Agapitp Abalos was a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and a prisoner of war (POW) in Capas Tarlac
“My father survived the war but suffered from malaria, diarrhea in the concentration camp became a school teacher after the war obtained the educational benefits for us that proved to be very helpful for us in getting a college education,” Abalos shared.