A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino veterans who served in World War II will get done by the end of September, retired Gen. Antonio Taguba predicted at a community meeting in San Francisco last weekend.
The retired general, who came to prominence by leading an investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, has made honoring Filipino veterans his primary focus until the end of the current session of Congress.
“There is no plan B,” Taguba told a group of mostly elderly veterans and their families. “To be emotional about this, I would hate to see you again and say we failed the mission.”
Though the effort to get basic cash and VA benefits restored for the veterans took decades, Taguba was confident about this bill.
“We’re not going to fail this year,” Taguba told NBC News. He said there would be no next year because people realize it’s time to honor these veterans now.
“We’re going to Congress and the community and say this bill has nothing to do with anymore benefits or any more immigration," he added. "This bill is basically to give our thanks for service.”
The proposal calls for medals to honor the service of the more than 250,000 Filipinos who answered the call of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941 to defend the U.S. in the Philippines.
The bill has already passed the Senate and so far approximately 205 of 290 supporters needed in the House of Representatives, according to Taguba.
“We’re knocking on doors to get 85 more,” Taguba said at the meeting. “Because you cannot wait another year. You’ve already waited 75 years. You’re not going to wait another year.”
Taguba said the bill will cost the U.S. about $30,000 for one medal, but that community groups are already mobilizing to raise funds to get as many as 20,000 replicas made for all living veterans, as well as surviving spouses and children of deceased veterans.
He said a big part of the problem is identifying where the veterans are. Taguba said records show between 11and 15 die each day, but there is no list that shows where living veterans might be.
Another challenge Taguba said is that many people, even Filipino Americans, are unaware of the history of the Filipino veterans of World War II. The group to be honored includes those in the Philippines who served as guerrillas and Philippine Scouts, as well as those Filipinos who came early to America and joined the U.S. Army during the war in exchange for citizenship. The inclusive bill will also honor those veterans who have not been officially recognized by the VA for benefits.
“We’re not going to exclude you from getting recognition,” Taguba said.