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Filipino WWII vets help select artist for monument on Oahu

Filipino-American WWII veterans march at the 78th Annual Veteran's Day Parade held in downtown San Jose, California, November 11, 1997.

GARY REYES, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS/MCT

By ROSEMARIE BERNARDO | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: December 25, 2017

(Tribune News Service) — On a breezy afternoon on his patio in Waipahu, with star-shaped holiday lights adorning the windows, Oscar Bangui expressed joy at the prospect of a Hawaii monument to honor Filipino World War II veterans.

“We are very happy,” said Bangui, 91, president of the Filipino WWII Veterans- Hawaii Chapter.

After decades of injustice and neglect, Filipino WWII veterans are finally winning recognition for their dedication to Allied forces during the war.

Last summer, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed into a law a measure authorizing the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts to select an artist to design and build a $200,000 monument to honor Filipino WWII veterans. Artists born and/or educated in Hawaii with a strong track record in the state are being given special consideration.

CEREMONY TO HONOR MEDAL RECIPIENTS

A Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony to honor Filipino WWII veterans is scheduled for Oahu in the spring for those who were unable to attend the ceremony in October in Washington, D.C.

Details of the ceremony are pending.

Organizers are continuing to search for Filipino WWII veterans in Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam who are eligible to receive the bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal.

A living veteran or next of kin of a deceased Filipino WWII veteran may download an application from the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project website at filvetrep.org/eligibility.

Applications may be sent to Ben Acohido, regional coordinator of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, at P.O. Box 860654, Wahiawa, HI 96786; or by email to loandoa001@hawaii.rr.com. For more information, contact Acohido at 285-4379 or Anita Loando-Acohido at 285-5143.

The foundation is expected to announce the winning artist in mid-January. A location on Oahu has yet to be set.

The chosen artist will spend time speaking with veterans to conduct in-depth research for the design.

“It’s a deeper, richer method of engaging the artist in the process,” said Jonathan Johnson, executive director of the State Foundation of Culture and the Arts.

Work on the monument is slated to start next summer and finish in January 2020.

Bangui was among three Filipino veterans who last week attended a meeting of the Filipino Veterans of WWII-Art Advisory Committee at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum Building downtown, part of the selection process for the monument artist. The others were Domingo Los Banos, 92, who served in the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, and Art Caleda, 93, who served in the 11th Infantry Regiment, part of the Filipino Organized Guerrillas.

The three and other committee members watched a slideshow of work by the top 10 artists culled from 50 who submitted applications to design the monument.

“It will be very meaningful to us,” said Los Banos.

Karen Ewald, director of the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, who is assisting in the project, said hearing the veterans’ stories on their experiences has been invaluable to the monument’s development. “It’s been a true honor to work directly with the veterans,” she said.

Educating the public, especially younger generations, about the history of the Filipino veterans is one of the committee’s main goals.

With most veterans in their 90s, Johnson said there’s “an urgency” to the project.

“So many veterans are leaving us,” said Tanya Mariano Kearns, whose late grandfather served in the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment. (See story below.)

Bangui, who was 17 when he served, was among a cohort from Hawaii that traveled to Washington in October to attend the ceremony where congressional leaders honored veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal. The medal is displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Soon after the ceremony, a gala was held at which living veterans as well as family members of deceased veterans were presented with bronze replicas of the medal.

“I was very emotional,” Bangui said. “I remember the hardships of the war.”

More than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers fought alongside the United States in WWII. There are approximately 15,000 to 18,000 surviving veterans in the U.S. and the Philippines.

Health and pension benefits were promised to soldiers who volunteered, but Congress rescinded that promise after the war. Hawaii’s congressional leaders have pushed to restore benefits for decades. In 2007 veterans in the Philippines received a lump sum payment of $9,000, and veterans in the U.S. received $15,000.

©2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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