Filipinos recognized for World War II service Wapato and Yakama communities come together to honor those previously forgotten

Posted 5 years ago

Photo by Ted Escobar
Gregorio Azurin, 92, one of two living Yakima Valley Filipino World War II veterans, receives his medal from Gen. Oscar Hilman and State Sen. Jim Honeyford.

 — Patriotism flowed like a fine old wine here Saturday, April 28, when 18 members of the Yakima Valley Filipino American Community received official recognition for their participation in World War II as part of the allied forces that defeated the Axis Powers.

They closed by singing the songs of the five branches of the U.S. military.

Members of the Yakama Warriors Association assisted at the ceremony, posting colors and invoking God’s grace and presenting a retired Filipino U.S. Army general with a blanket graced with stars.

Filipinos recognized for World War II service Wapato and Yakama communities come together to honor those previously forgotten
Photo by Ted Escobar
Daily Sun News

A member of the Yakama Warriors Association, left, and Yakama Nation elder Ray Olney present Gen. Oscar Hilman a traditional gift of the tribe — a blanket.

Trumpeter Loren Corpuz played taps for the fallen, and he and snare drummer John Smith led in the military songs.

Others to participate were State Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside, a representative of Congressman Dan Newhouse, Yakima County Auditor Charle Ross, Wapato Mayor Juan Orozco and Wapato Schools Superintendent Glen Green. All spoke, and all said, “It’s about time,” or something similar.

Brigadier General Oscar Hilman, U.S. Army retired, a Filipino who partnered with Yakima Valley President Rey Pascua and other Filipino leaders across the country to cause this day to come, said: “America never fails. (Recognition) is late, but it’s here.”

About the same time Americans decided their best generation had been the World War II group, Filipinos of the next generation, who’d heard the stories of the war years from their fathers, decided it was time to seek official recognition for them

For some unknown reason, the history they new was not showing up in the books, movies or documentaries. Several partnered in a years-long campaign that finally resulted in that recognition in December of 2015 with a Congressional Gold Medal with three warriors and the words “Filipino Veterans of World War II.

According to U.S. government records, Pascua said, more than 260,000 Filipinos fought alongside American soldiers and Marines. They came mostly from the Philippines but many from places like the Yakima Valley. They fought primarily in the Philippines but some fought in other jungles, which was the type of fighting they did best.

According to Pascua, there were more Filipinos than Americans who fought the Japanese Empire on the Bataan Peninsula, more who experienced the Bataan Death March and more who died in that infamous brutalization of human beings. One Filipino family from the Yakima Valley lost four of its members in that march.

The men who were recognized Saturday received bronze replicas of the Gold Medal, which resides at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. That one cost $35,000. The impressive replicas cost $75 — not government money but funds raised by Filipino communities.

They were cherished just the same by one old Filipino warrior, 92-year-old Gregorio Azurin, and representatives of 17 others, including the frail Marcelo Quinto, who is nearing 100. The emotion running through the recipients was palpable.

Also recognized were three non-Filipino Americans from the area who fought in the Philippines: Douglas Campbell, Arthur Anderson and Paul Marshall. The law recognizing Filipino warriors, recognized any American who fought in the Philippines. Their representatives, too, were grateful.

The entire list of 21 medal recipients included Arthur Anderson, Raimundo Arreola, Gregorio Azurin (living), Bernard Baclig, Douglas Campell, Ponce Divina, Joe Estep, Teofilo Estoesta, Marcos Licudan, Johnny Manzano, Paul Marshall, Ambrocio Pascua, Teodorico Pascua, Venancio Pascua, Marcelo Quinto, Pedrito Velasco, Bonifacio Visaya, Alfredo Caluza, Trangulino Floresca, Guillermo Hipol and Pablo Hipol.

“It’s been way to long,” said Col. Geoff Baker, U.S. Air Force retired, of Yakima. “Americans owe them a great deal.”

“Those uniforms were filled with people of Character,” Ross said.

“It’s a very proud moment for our city,” Orozco said.

Azurin, who still remembers those years as if they were yesterday, smiled and laughed a little about the day he evaded imminent capture by enemy soldiers.

“I ran to get away and fell off a cliff into a deep hole,” he said.

Japanese soldiers gave him up for dead. The government declared him dead. After three days and nights of incessant rain and hunger, Azurin found his unit and fought to the end of the war.

Bill Simpson accepted for Afredo Caluza, Trangulino Floresca, Guillermo Hipol and Pablo Hipol. His wife, a Filipino and relative of these men, was a part of the group that worked for recognition.

“She was going to receive the medal for them, but she died of cancer in January,” Simpson said through moist eyes. “I really felt it when I went up there.”

Anthony Arreola, a son accepting for his deceased father, Raimundo Arreola, said: “That was his greatest pride, to be an American soldier and to get his American citizenship.”

Anthony said he felt a sense of pride and gratitude for all of those who served. He said his father spoke some about the war, but most of his war history was in box of ribbons and medals, including the Pacific Theatre ribbon and the Bronze Star.

“He loved America; he told us that from the time we were born,” Anthony said. “He spoke in English to us and made us learn English first.”

Raimundo came to America in 1927 at the age of 17. He was a grown man by the start of the war.

Marcie Floresca Noble, who accepted for , said: “I didn’t know his history before I heard about this. Now, I’m going to dig it all up.”


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