Congressional leaders bestowed Filipino World War II veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress, Wednesday morning at the Capitol.
In Emancipation Hall, all four leaders presented a single medal of honor to the 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who served in the U.S. military from the summer of 1941 to the winter of 1946 to thank them for their service and sacrifice during the war.
"With the gold medal we present today we are paying tribute to a selfless sacrifice, we are remembering the indomitable spirit of a Pacific people, we are preserving for generations hence this enduring reminder of valor and of honor. This powerful symbol of a nation's gratitude," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, as he thanked the veterans.
President Franklin Roosevelt created the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East, which offered full veterans' benefits to Filipinos, who at the time were U.S. nationals and not full U.S. citizens. However, at the end of the war, President Harry Truman rescinded the benefits and Filipino soldiers were stripped of their U.S. veteran title.
"I have waited along with my Filipino and American soldiers for this moment to come," WWII veteran Celestino Almeda, 100, said during the ceremony. "After the war, thousands of us felt underappreciated and unrecognized for fighting for our country."
Each of the congressional leaders expressed their gratitude for the service of the Filipino troops.
"After far too long a delay we honor them today," said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. "It's a mark of a confident and exceptional nation to look back on its history and say that we made an a grievous error. But we recognize it and pledge to never let it happen again."