Plans are underway for a national celebration honoring Filipino World War II veterans, whose service and sacrifice have been finally recognized by the U.S. with the passage last year of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, which is now enshrined as Public Law 114-265.
The Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) is one of the highest civilian awards bestowed by the United States for persons or groups who have performed an achievement that have an impact on American history and culture. American citizenship is not a requirement. In particular, this award is a public expression of the U.S. Congress’ gratitude on behalf of the nation for the distinguished contributions of 260,000 Filipino soldiers and guerrillas during World War II in the Philippines.
Traditionally, the CGM is formally presented to the awardees by the Speaker of the House. This year, the national celebration coincides with the formal award presentation of the medal to Filipino World War II veterans by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The presentation has not been scheduled, but could be held as early as October or November of this year.
At the award ceremony, slated to be held on Capitol Hill, surviving Filipino and American veterans or their next-of-kin will receive bronze replicas of the CGM and a framed copy of Public Law 114-265. Expected to attend are Congressional sponsors, Philippine Government officials, Presidential Cabinet members, high ranking general officers from the US Army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, US Air Force, US Coast Guard, veterans advocates, community leaders and supporters and other dignitaries.
The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), the proponent of the CGM legislation and the official national point of contact for all CGM activities, is working closely with the U.S. Mint and offices of Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to accelerate completion of the CGM’s minting and production of at least 500 bronze replicas. FilVetREP is led by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (U.S.A. Ret.) and his executive team composed of Marie Blanco, Erick Soriano, Jon Melegrito and Ben de Guzman.
National Celebration Plans. “We secured the Congressional Gold Medal to honor our veterans and demonstrate our deepest gratitude for their supreme sacrifice,” said FilVetREP Chairman Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret). “We will ensure that our national celebration of this historic achievement is one that treats our veterans with the utmost dignity and respect. We are, therefore, calling on all our supporters to make this important event happen. It’s for our veterans and they deserve to have a memorable event.”
Taguba also notes that not all recipients of the medal may not be able to come to Washington due to their age and physical condition. Regional award ceremonies are being considered in the West Coast, Midwest and the South to accommodate veterans who are not able to travel to Washington.
There are also plans for Filipino veterans residing in the Philippines to receive their bronze replicas in Manila. It is anticipated that this will be handled by the Philippine Veterans Administration Office (PVAO) and Philippine Office of National Defense.
Photo: The FilVetREP team and officers of the U.S. Mint’s Office of Design Management pose for a group picture shortly after the CCAC approved the CGM designs. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Mint.)
National Registry. Bronze replicas will be awarded only to surviving veterans or their next-of-kin whose eligibility for CGM has been vetted and whose names are included in FilVetREP’s national veterans registry.
“It is essential that veterans and their families register as soon as possible to make sure they are included in the award ceremony,” Taguba adds.
Applications and instructions for submission may be downloaded from FilVetREP’s website, www.filvetrep.org. Each of the FILVETREP regional directors are responsible for contacting the veterans and families to help them register. Bronze replicas are not funded by the U.S. government, but rather by donations from the public. Donations to support FilVetREP’s CGM activities are accepted through the FilVetREP website.
CGM Design and Approval Process. In the past several months, FilVetREP has been meeting with the U.S. Mint’s Office of Design Management in providing significant input and recommendations to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA).
The U.S. Mint is the nation’s sole manufacturer of legal tender coinage, commemorative coins and congressional gold medals, and is responsible for producing circulating coinage for the nation to conduct its trade and commerce.
CCAC is an advisory committee established in 2003 by Congress under Public Law 108-15 to advise the Secretary of the Treasury on the themes and designs of all U.S. coins and medals; CFA is an independent federal agency charged with giving expert advice on matters of design and aesthetics, as they affect the federal interest and preserve the dignity of the nation’s capital.
As Chairman of FilVetREP, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (U.S. Army Ret) was designated as the official liaison to the U.S. Mint by Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, co-sponsors of the CGM legislation.
On January 17, FilVetREP held its initial meeting with the U.S. Mint’s Office of Design Management. The team include FilVetREP executive officers Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, Marie Blanco, Ben de Guzman, Jon Melegrito and Erick Soriano, legal counsel.
At this meeting, the FilVetREP team presented possible themes, text, photos and graphics that would be useful to the assigned artists and illustrators.
On February 15, FilVetREP met with the CCAC. The presentation included screening of the documentary, “Duty to Country,” and a discussion of all the artistic, political and historical themes and elements that would inform the design process.
A kick-off meeting with the six U.S. Mint artists assigned to the project was held on March 22. A month later, the artists completed 43 candidate designs based on the instructions provided by the CCAC. FilVetREP then reviewed each obverse (front) and reverse (back) designs for historical/technical accuracy and appropriateness. After several rounds of feedback and suggested modifications, the team narrowed down its selection to seven of the front and three of the back.
On May 22, a meeting with the U.S. Mint led to the selection of the top three designs, which were presented to the CFA on June 15. The CFA agreed with FilVetREP’s design preferences and modifications.
On June 21, the 11-member CCAC approved the recommendations of FilVetREP for the CGM design. The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who has the final approval, is expected to concur and give the U.S. Mint the official go ahead to have the medal minted this summer.
FilVetREP leaders and community supporters joined Sen. Mazie Hirono (center) in a celebration photo shortly after the Senate approved the Congressional Gold Medal legislation on Nov. 30, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Hirono’s office.)
The minting process, which typically takes about three months, basically involves translating a 14-page legislation (i.e., Public Law 114-265) into a graphic design engraved on a 3-inch medal minted in solid gold. The CGM legislation provides that the Smithsonian Institution will be the repository for the CGM where it will be available for display and research. The CGM legislation also requires the Smithsonian Institution to make the CGM available for display elsewhere. Currently, the plan is for the CGM to be permanently housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History or another national museum of similar repute.
Digital Exhibition and Education Program. The next phase of the CGM project is to create a digital exhibition and education program that will be accessible to public schools and the public. It will include a complete history of the Filipino veterans’ role in World War II, timelines, testimonies, personal stories, photographs, videos and other artifacts.
“This American story of Filipino soldiers fighting under the U.S. flag in Bataan, Corregidor and other places, and helping liberate a U.S. sovereign territory only to be denied the benefits promised them, must be told widely and preserved for posterity for generations to come,” Taguba said.
“It is a story we all should be proud of.”