As I have mentioned on previous occasions, one of the ministries here at St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle, VA, is to celebrate interment services at Quantico National Cemetery. It is an honor to minister to the families of women and men who served our country with honor and distinction. I am always moved when driving past the rows upon rows of my veteran brothers and sisters.
As I get older, I am not unaware that I am increasingly laying to rest a person younger than I – a little dose of mortality now and then is a good thing. Psalm 90 says that we are given 70 years or 80 for those who are strong. Yesterday I help lay to eternal rest Celestino Almeda. He reached 104 years old – and it was an active 104 years. At age 99 he was roaming the halls of Congress and the Veteran’s Administration seeking to right a wrong, an injustice.
As a young man, Celestino was one of hundreds of thousands of Filipino soldiers who fought against the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. Prior to the war, a Filipino who joined the armed services was sworn in as a citizen of the United States and then took the oath to protect and defend his new country. At the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, realizing that the US Army could not provide additional troops to defend the Philippine territory, in July 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt federalized forces in the Philippines into service. As a commonwealth of the United States before and during the war, Filipinos were legally American nationals. With American nationality, Filipinos were promised all the benefits afforded to those serving in the armed forces of the United States. By late November 1941, the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) was formed as the merger of the Philippine Commonwealth army and the US Armed Forces stationed in the Philippines. General Douglas MacArthur was made commander of the USAFFE. Ultimately, the allied forces in the Philippine campaign from 1941-1942 consisted of 120,000 Filipino troops and 30,000 American troops, some of whom were Filipino Americans.
Many of them suffered the infamous siege of Corregidor and Bataan, included the “death march” to the prisoner of war camps. Many lives were given in a heroic but futile resistance against the forces of the Imperial Japanese Army. But not all was lost. For the next 2.5 years, the USAFFE forces organized for guerilla warfare. Their stories are legend as they served the United States as fighters, scouts, and as agents of espionage. The privations and suffering, sadly as also legend. Celestino Almeda was one of them, serving as a lieutenant in USAFFE.
If you are interested in the history of these forces, “War and Resistance in the Philippines 1942–1944” by James Kelly Morningstar is a recommended read.
Allied forces began their liberation of the Philippines in October of 1944. The liberation ended, in allied victory, in the summer of 1945. The Filipino immigrants who were living in the U.S. and had served with the U.S. military during the war returned to civilian life as American citizens. But the Filipinos who enlisted from within the Philippines were not so fortunate. In 1946, President Truman signed the Rescission Act, which retroactively annulled the offer of citizenship and any veterans benefits promised to Filipino troops under measures like the G.I. Bill. Only four thousand Filipino World War II veterans obtained citizenship before the rescission. The remaining war veterans were denied citizenship and veteran benefits.
Celestino Almeda spent a lifetime seeking to correct that grievous wrong. At the age of 100 years he finally prevailed and received the benefits due him and was recognized for his service to his country and to his fellow Filipino veterans when awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
Rest in peace.