Five World War II veterans — one living and four deceased — were honored last Tuesday at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo with the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal.
The living veteran is Pablo Bibilone, a 93-year-old resident of the veterans home, who served from June 16, 1945, to July 29, 1947. He fired and maintained large anti-aircraft artillery.
The deceased veterans, represented in the ceremony by family members, are: Edward Chang, an aircraft maintenance technician who served from Feb. 9, 1945, to Sept. 21, 1947; Consuelo Daog, who served from Jan. 10-Nov. 26, 1945, with the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment; Pedro E. Racelis Jr., a captain in the Philippine Commonwealth Army, U.S. Armed Forces Far East, who was a prisoner of war and survived the infamous Bataan Death March; and Ronald M. Takahata, a sergeant major who served in the Philippines from Jan. 13, 1945, to Oct. 27, 1946, as a Japanese language interpreter.
Racelis died Feb. 7, 2014, at 94. Daog died Aug. 2, 2017, at 93. Chang and Takahata both died this year at the veterans home, Chang on April 15 at 94 and Takahata on Aug. 19 at 95.
The medal was established by the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 14, 2016.
Retired Army Col. Deb Lewis, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3830 in Pahoa and the event’s emcee, said the recognition of these veterans is long overdue. She added the story of the medal and those honored by it are of “a scale that is unimaginable, and many of us didn’t know the story.”
The ceremony was sponsored by the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, an organization with a mission “to honor the thousands of veterans who fought during World War II in the Philippines.”
Anita Loando-Acohido, the organization’s region director, noted the project was established by Philippines-born retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba and other volunteers, including Loando-Acohido and her late husband, retired Army Lt. Col. Ben Acohido.
“We are all dedicated volunteers in this effort to recognize and perpetuate the legacy of these valiant heroes. Many of them sacrificed their life for our country,” Loando-Acohido said.
County Managing Director Wil Okabe, presenting a proclamation from Mayor Harry Kim, called it “a great honor to recognize Hawaii’s Filipino World War II veterans.” Reading from the proclamation, Okabe called the occasion a “reminder of the longstanding ties of friendship and solidarity between the people of the Philippines and the United States.”
The proclamation notes that the congressional act “honored the more than 260,000 Filipino soldiers who fought the invading Japanese alongside the U.S. Army during World War II and the approximately 60,000 Filipino soldiers who died in combat.”
“We remember their courageous heroism and willingness to sacrifice for the freedom of the Philippines. And today we honor more than a hundred Filipino veterans of World War II in Hawaii who have waited more than 75 years to be recognized,” the proclamation states.
On a personal note, Okabe said he was “very moved that Pablo Bibilone was able to stand, even though he had difficulty in standing, for the colors. Because it definitely shows the sacrifice and the honor of the military men and women who are given this opportunity to fight for our country.”
Ann Ebesuno, representing U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, presented the medal recipients a certificate from Hirono “in appreciation and recognition of your courageous service while defending the United States during the Second World War II.”
Turning to Elaine Takahata, widow of Ronald Takahata, Ebesuno became emotional.
“This one is very special to me because he was my uncle, and we just lost him a few months ago, but to Aunty Elaine, thank you for Uncle Ronald,” Ebesuno said, through tears.
Army Lt. Col. Loreto V. Borce Jr., commander at Pohakuloa Training Area and the keynote speaker, noted his own Filipino ancestry.
“To come here to recognize you folks means a lot to me,” Borce said.
Borce recounted the story of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who commanded 90,000 American and Filipino troops in a bloody battle against the Japanese military on the island of Corregidor.
“I shall return,” MacArthur vowed to the Filipino people, when ordered in 1942 to leave the Philippines by President Franklin Roosevelt, who was worried Corregidor would fall and MacArthur would be captured or killed.
“Gen. MacArthur promised to return to the Philippines,” Borce said. “On Oct. 20, 1944, two-and-a-half years later, Gen. MacArthur returned to the Philippines. I was reminded by my grandma … that he did a radio broadcast just hours after returning to the Philippines, in which he announced to the people of the Philippines, ‘I have returned.’
“I was fortunate to be under a warm blanket of freedom and have never lived or known a day without it. Neither has my family. And I owe that to all who have served, especially … the recipients of this congressional medal award.”
“When you decide to put the uniform on is the day you sign up to carry the legacy of those before you,” Borce concluded. “Just like the patriots here today and their (families). It’s never about you but always about the comrade next to you.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.