During World War II about 300 Filipino-Americans from Hawaii serving under Gen. Douglas MacArthur played a significant role in helping the Allies liberate the Philippines.
Today, with the ranks of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry regiments dwindling, veterans will gather for a "last hurrah" next month, said Domingo Los Banos, a retired educator and Filipino-American veteran.
Along with Comrades of the Philippine Scouts, recognized guerrilla units and the Women Auxiliaries, Los Banos is helping to coordinate a two-day celebration for Filipino-American veterans slated for Nov. 16-17.
Among the highlights: a luncheon at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu and a wreath-laying ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial, followed by a screening of the documentary "Untold Triumph," which traces the legacy of the 1st and 2nd regiments. The film was produced by Stephanie Castillo, a former Star-Bulletin reporter whose father served in the unit; it has been shown on public television several times.
Invited speakers include Gov. Neil Abercrombie, retired U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a 1968 Leilehua High School graduate whose father, Tomas, served in the Philippines Scouts in 1942. Taguba is the second Filipino-American general in the history of the U.S. Army and headed the first investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Banos is now trying to locate more than 50 Filipino veterans who were part of the 300 replacements from Hawaii in May 1945. The whereabouts of those veterans is unknown as they have not maintained contact with fellow members of the regiments.
"Every attempt will be made to have them attend this affair," said Los Banos, 88, who was one of the youngest members of the regiment when he interrupted his studies at the University of Hawaii to enlist in the Army to join his twin brothers, Alfred and Bernard, who had been drafted.
In 1934 federal law changed the status of Filipinos in the United States from nationals to aliens and barred them from serving in the military. After the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1942 changing the alien draft status to allow Filipinos to enlist.
The 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry regiments were formed in 1942 with a total strength of 7,000 soldiers. Both regiments were deactivated in 1946.
Los Banos said that he believes all of the original members of the regiments have died. Many of Hawaii's 300 Filipino-American veterans — including former Chief Justice William Richardson, former state Reps. Emilio Alcon and Peter Aduja, ILWU labor leader Tony Rania and Benjamin Menor, the first Filipino-American to serve on the state Supreme Court — have died.
"That's why we want to do this now, before the remaining veterans are not able to make it," Los Banos said, adding that the last reunion was held about two decades ago.
More than 800 handpicked volunteers from the regiments were sent secretly into the Philippines by submarine to serve as MacArthur's "eyes and ears" as the Allies prepared to retake the Pacific nation from the Japanese. In October 1944 MacArthur's assault troops landed on the Tacloban and Palo beaches and in the neighboring town of Dulag in the Philippine province of Leyte, signaling the eventual victory of the Filipino and American forces.
Also, soldiers of the 1st and 2nd regiments participated in combat and mop-up operations in New Guinea, Leyte, Samar, Luzon and the southern Philippines.
"The men participated in the Great Raid, which rescued the American prisoners of the (Bataan) Death March at Cabanatuan on Jan. 30, 1945," Los Banos said.
During the Raid at Cabanatuan, U.S. Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas liberated more than 500 prisoners of war and civilians from a Japanese camp near Cabanatuan City in the Philippines. Soldiers of the 1st Regiment served in the U.S. 6th Army Alamo Scouts reconnaissance group, which traveled 30 miles behind enemy lines to help free prisoners.
Also, Banos said, men in the regiments rescued three survivors of a plane crash in a remote jungle in New Guinea in March 1945.
Past estimates have more than 200,000 Filipinos volunteering in the Philippines, Hawaii and the mainland to serve in World War II under a promise of U.S. citizenship. However, in 1946 Congress stripped many Filipino veterans of the medical and pension benefits that they had been promised.
Since then Hawaii's congressional lawmakers, including Akaka and the late Sens. Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, have worked to restore some of those benefits to veterans and their wives and children. There are bills in Congress — supported by Hawaii's current congressional delegation — to restore full veterans benefits to World War II Filipino veterans and allow their children to rejoin their parents in the United States.