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Filipino WWII Vets Awarded Overdue Congressional Gold Medal

WASHINGTON (KPIX 5) -- Filipino World War II veterans who fought for the U.S. won their long battle for national recognition on Wednesday, receiving the Congressional Gold Medal over seven decades after their service.

Bipartisan leaders of the U.S. House and Senate were able to put politics aside for at least a moment to present the medal honoring Filipino World War II vets on the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Inside the U.S. Capitol, veterans were awarded the highest civilian honor the United States government can bestow.

"I don't have to tell you that this is a day that is long, long overdue," said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

In July of 1941, more than 250,000 Filipino men answered President Franklin D. Roosevelt's call to duty.

After the war ended, President Harry Truman signed laws that stripped away promises of benefits and citizenship for Filipino veterans.

Only recently have the veterans won back some concessions and acknowledgment, including the gold medal. Some also received lump-sum payments as part of the 2009 economic stimulus law.

"Most had no formal training. Many had never even picked up a weapon before," said Ryan. "But they risked, and in the case of so many, gave their lives under our stars and stripes."

San Francisco Congresswoman and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also sang the praises of the Filipino veterans.

"Filipinos fought shoulder to shoulder with American armed forces," said Pelosi. "Our unity was forged through shared sacrifice and common purpose. Together our fighters ensured that freedom would triumph."

One of those men was 100-year-old veteran Celestino Almeda.

"Many have passed away waiting for 75 years for this time to come," said the veteran.

Almeda has publicly asked for what he calls "fair treatment" for years. He was glad this day of recognition has finally come.

"In the words of the soldiers creed, I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and member of a team," he said.

The United States Mint will make eligible Filipino veterans or a surviving family member a bronze replica of the award.

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