Filipino World War II veterans get replicas of US medals
Updated @ 12:12 a.m., Oct. 29, 2018
FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City — At the age of 100, Cato Dampas Pulac from La Trinidad town in Benguet province, finally got the recognition he deserved.
As young cadets of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) watched, Pulac, who had the rank of corporal, along with 27 war veterans were awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal on Saturday (Oct. 27).
Among them were surviving Igorot defenders who fought the Imperial Japanese Army when it occupied the country during World War II.
The veterans, who participated in a solemn ceremony, led by US Ambassador Sung Kim, represented the second batch of fighters to receive the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal after it was mandated by a law signed by then US President Barack Obama in 2016.
The first set of nine recipients were awarded in an Oct. 24 program in Manila.
Pulac was the oldest living veteran to receive the award at PMA, having served under the 66th Infantry Brigade of the US Armed Forces in the Philippines (USAFIP).
The youngest awardees were Graciano Clavano, 89, and Timoteo Boado, 90, both from Baguio City and had the rank of private first class.
The US Congressional Gold Medal is the highest award given by the American government to civilians who fought in the war.
Bestowed by the US Congress, the medals express America’s “gratitude for distinguished achievements and contributions that helped shape American history.”
All 28 beneficiaries served under the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and USAFIP, or belonged to guerrilla units that stayed to fight the Imperial Japanese Army after Allied Forces abandoned the country.
Each of the veterans was handed a bronze replica of the gold medal given collectively to all Filipino veterans.
But almost everyone who were honored at the PMA Mess Hall were aided by canes or had to be brought to the venue in wheelchairs.
Pulac no longer responded to questions, owing to a hearing problem.
Siblings Camilo, 93, and Alberto Bugtong, 92, turned up but admitted they still had misgivings about their benefits despite being war heroes.
“If this medal was real gold, I would sell it to make my retirement more comfortable,” said Alberto, who was 17 years old when he joined his elder brother Camilo at the USAFIP in Northern Luzon.
Waiting for relief
The monthly pension of World War II veterans would soon increase from P5,000 to P20,000 monthly, said Defense Undersecretary Ernesto Carolina, administrator of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office during the Oct. 20 commemoration of the 74th Leyte Gulf Landings.
“I hope they implement it next month because at our age, we do not know if we will continue the fight there,” Alberto said in jest while pointing to the sky.
The Bugtong brothers were among 11 Benguet fighters honored at PMA.
They included Rizalino Alingbas, 95; Camilo Atas, 94; Mateo Bakian, 92; Tuacan Barian, 97; Pio Doro, 92; Wilfredo Estandian, 96; Magno Lamsis, 96; Jose Tiangao, 93; and Garcia Wakit, 92.
Other Baguio veterans who were awarded were Viloria Andrada, 92, and Pfc. Orlando Pimentel, 94.
A former Baguio mayor, Francisco Paraan, and the late general, Vicente Lim, a PMA icon, were recognized posthumously.
Kim awarded four veterans from La Union province: Pedro Hipol, 91; Vicente Madarang, 92; Jaime Tabernero, 97; and Salvador Yapyapan, 93.
Also awarded were: Cosme Baltazar, 94, of Nueva Vizcaya; Ernesto Luis, 91; Enrique Sobrepeña Jr. of Cavite, the 92-year-old father of businessman Robert John Sobrepeña; the late Pastor Martelino and the late Jose San Juan.
“We are forever grateful for their sacrifices, and we stand proud as protector of their legacies,” said Kim.
“Their bravery, heroism and dedication played an integral role leading the Allied Powers to victory,” he said.
“You are our heroes, and we are forever grateful,” he told the veterans describing the fighters as “liberators” no one could ever repay.
In a speech, Sonny Busa, a visiting professor at PMA, told the Corps of Cadets that unless they could “rise to the level” of the veterans, they had not done their duty.
Busa was a West Point graduate with over 30 years at the US foreign service, including a stint as consul general at the US Embassy in Manila.
He helped lobby the US government into passing the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act.
“The medal is a reminder that history must not be forgotten but passed on to the next generation. You are here because they were here,” he told the cadets.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.