WASHINGTON DC — With the official congressional gold medal on full display, family members of deceased Filipino WWII veterans were given their own medals in honor of their service.
“My whole family is military. My grandfather, two uncles, two brothers, and my son all in the army. And this is mother who is married to the ex-pow, very proud of him,” said Cely Ochoa Yim, family of SSGT. Simplicio S. Ochoa.
“I feel very honored to receive the medal for my dad. I’m very glad after all these years they have recognized their work,” said Alice Beneitez, family of Col. Juan Beneitez.
“My father was a Filipino scout with the 57th infantry regiment as well as a prisoner of war in Korea so this meant a lot to me,” said. Ret. Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano, family of Cpl. Fred Soriano. “He passed away years ago but it took a long time to get recognized.”
For many, the Wednesday night gala that followed the morning congressional awarding ceremony was filled with joy and excitement — like the family of staff Sergeant Jacinto Cabeza.
“It was just like riding in the clouds,” said Felicia Mendez Cabeza. ‘That’s how it felt because not many people had that chance.”
And for others, the event was also very emotional.
“When we were in Congress I didn’t think I would cry, but I was surprised I was really shedding tears, and I was really telling because it was so emotional for me because I’m the only one left,” saidDr. Erlinda Rojas Santo, family of Maj. Teofilo Rojas. “All my brothers and sisters have died, my mother…I’m the only one left as the sole survivor of my late father.”
Many families echo the sentiment that while the congressional gold medal is a victory in recognition — there is still more work to do in honoring the Filipino veterans.
“I think he was alive he will be very happy and one thing more since he died early he did not receive some benefits,” said John Orallo, family of Juan Orallo.
“We still need to educate our students not just in California, but throughout the country, including the Philippines and Japan,” said Cecilia Gaerlan, from Bataan legacy project.
The Filipino veterans recognition and education project fundraised to ensure that each family at the gala were given individual medals, cast in bronze, and free of charge.
And they continue to fundraise so that other families of Filipino WWII veterans in the US and the Philippines can also receive the medal.