WASHINGTON, DC — “We remember with gratitude the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who served this country bravely in all of America’s past wars,” says Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), FilVetREP Chairman. “We also honor their families who lost their loved ones in the hard battles of war. They made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the freedoms we enjoy today.”
One way to honor them on Memorial Day, Taguba adds, is to “tell their stories, and remember their courageous acts and uncommon valor.”
At the American Historical Foundation’s Soldier Experience event on May 25, which featured Asian American and Pacific Islanders who served in the US Military, Taguba shared the story of Corporal Magdalena Estoista Leones. Leones was an intelligence agent under the command of US Army Col. Russell Volckmann, who led guerrilla forces in Northern Philippines from 1943 to 1945.
“All too often, we present men who were recognized for gallantry and intrepidity in the face of the enemy,” Taguba said. “This woman is clearly extraordinary, a soldier with a distinguished record of service fighting the Japanese Imperial Forces in the Philippines.”
Leones was born to a religious family in the Mountain Province of Northern Luzon. She and her family served with American missionaries prior to the war. When Corregidor fell on May 6, 1942, she was incarcerated along with the missionaries in prison camps, where she learned to speak Nippongo, the Japanese language. After her release seven months later, she joined the guerrillas. Operating mostly by herself, Leones infiltrated behind enemy lines, exchanged information with resistance leaders, carried medical supplies and, more importantly, collected information on enemy dispositions and installations. Although she was detained by Japanese Forces three times, she escaped to continue with her tasks.
Silver Star award
For her “tenacity, determination and uncommon courage,” Volckmann formally enlisted Leones into the Philippine Army with a rank of Corporal, and later promoted her to Lieutenant. On October 22, 1945, she was awarded the Silver Star. The citation reads: “For gallantry in action at Luzon, Philippine Islands, from February 27 to September 26, 1944.
During this period, Corporal Leones repeatedly risked her life to carry important intelligence data, vital radio parts and medical supplies through heavily garrisoned enemy-held territory.
Although she knew that detection by the enemy would result in torture and execution, Corporal Leones fearlessly continued her perilous missions between guerrilla forces throughout Luzon with notable success. Through her intrepidity and skill as special agent, Corporal Leones contributed materially to the early liberation of the Philippines.”
Known as “Maggie,” Corporal Leones was the fifth female soldier during World War ll, and the only Asia Pacific Islander to be awarded the Silver Star. Leones passed away on June 16, 2016 at the age of 95, in Richmond, California.
Congressional Gold medal
“Remembering Leones and the thousands of Filipino soldiers who served this country inspired us to secure the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015,” Taguba said. “This year’s Memorial Day is even more meaningful, now that Congress has unanimously passed the bill. Public Law 114-265 is now forever enshrined in the Congressional Record and in American history.”
Taguba adds: “The passage of this law coincides with our country’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of World War II. It is a small, but important triumph for the Filipino veterans who have waited for three quarters of a century to be finally recognized for their distinguished war time service. The only action that remains is the repeal of the Rescission Act of 1946, which still stands to this day. It revoked benefits and entitlements for thousands of Filipino and Filipino Americans, and stripped them of their US nationality as citizens of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.”
‘Remember, register, recognize’
To celebrate their lives and ensure that their stories are preserved for posterity, FilVetREP is launching its “Remember, register, recognize” campaign. This nationwide effort aims to raise greater public awareness of the Congressional Gold medal and its significance, intensify outreach to veterans and their families to make sure they can be appropriately recognized for their service, and step up fund-raising activities to support both the short- and long-term goals of the project.
“We are calling on our supporters to help us raise the funds to ensure that our veterans are able to receive the medal their service has more than paid for,” said Ben de Guzman, FilVetRep’s Program Manager. “For the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we will be out in our communities to spread the word.”
The campaign also identifies upcoming important dates and events related to Filipino World II veterans. They include fund-raising events across the country in Jersey City, NJ (May 28) and Seattle (June 5), Philippine Independence Day on June 12, and the July 26th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s creation of the US Army Forces of the Far East and call to service for over 250,000 Filipino soldiers to the war effort.
For more details of the campaign, go to www.huffingtonpost.com/author/ben-de-guzman.
Meanwhile, the minting of the Congressional Gold medal is going through the design process as required by law. “As we collaborate with the US Mint, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and the Commission of Fine Arts on the appropriate design for the Congressional Gold Medal to honor and memorialize the invaluable contributions our Filipino and American World War II veterans, we will strive to reflect their experiences and sentiments with empathy and authenticity,” Taguba said.