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US Filipino Vets Remember American WWII Fallen in the Philippines

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WASHINGTON, DC -- During the Memorial Day weekend, two elderly Filipino American veterans honored the sacrifices of their fallen U.S. military comrades numbering 400,000 who were killed in World War II,  including 14,000 G.I.s who fought and died in the Philippines and buried there.  

 

Celestino Almeda, 96, of Maryland and Jesse Baltazar, 94, of Virginia attended the 10th anniversary of the opening and dedication of the National World War II Memorial in the capital. 

The Memorial, a popular tourist destination in the midst of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol and the White House, is a Mecca for the dwindling members of the “greatest generation.” Sixteen million Americans served during the global conflict. Among the 56 granite pillars representing the American states and U.S. territories that sacrificed during the war is the Philippines. 

“I am glad we who fought, suffered and survived the terrible invasion of our homeland have a prestigious monument in Washington,” said Almeda. He proudly wore his American Legion Philippine Post vest and veterans cap. Almeda sat in his aluminum walker as he watched the ceremony program with about a hundred aging former warriors, many in wheel chairs. They were accompanied by their family members. 

“The sacrifices of the Filipino People and her soldiers are honored with the Philippine Pillar,” Almeda pointed out. More than 60,000 Filipino soldiers and guerrillas of U.S. Army Forces in Far East died resisting the Japanese invasion and in the liberation campaign of the archipelago nation. About a million Filipino civilians died due to war related causes including famine and diseases, according to the State Department. Almeda retired as a former instructor and business owner in Manila. 

Almeda is also the spokesman of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, a national advocacy organization based in Washington. He applauded the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in Manila during President Obama’s recent state visit in light of China’s aggressive actions in the territorial seas of the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. 

Jesse Baltazar, a decorated Purple Heart recipient, was brought to the event by his two sons, Melchor and Thomas, who served in the SEALS and US Special Forces respectively. Baltazar was a USAFFE Philippine Commonwealth Army survivor of the Bataan Death March in 1942. After the war, he later joined the US Air Force and was the first Filipino American promoted to the rank of major. Baltazar was invited to the White House and met President Obama for the first time during the Veterans Day breakfast House in November. Amazingly, Baltazar still works at the State Department. Only a few dozen Filipino WWII veterans are estimated to be still living in the East Coast 

 

The prominent guest speakers at the anniversary were: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a disabled decorated WWII veteran, and Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur who led legislative campaign that established the memorial. They also presented wreaths at the wall of thousands of gold stars representing the 400,000 who gave their lives. 

The Filipino Express

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