HANAMAULU — The island’s last surviving Filipino World War II veteran will have to wait about six months to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“I was very surprised (when I heard the news), and I’m very eager to hold it now,” said 92-year-old Sixto Tabay.
One Congressional Gold Medal will be minted, but 20,000 bronze replicas will be distributed free of charge to surviving veterans or next of kin survivors, said Col. Ben Acohido, regional coordinator for the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.
“About a month ago, our executive group met with with the Smithsonian Institute designer. Only one gold medal will be minted,” he said. “We anticipate six more months in the making of the gold medal. For my region, I need to identify the people that are eligible. It’s just an estimate.”
Tabay is the last surviving Filipino veteran on Kauai — out of 13 — who served with the 12th Infantry Division, a group of 10,473 Filipinos enlisted from the Philippines to fight for the United States.
After enduring 75 years of injustice and humiliation, Filipino World War II veterans regained their honor and dignity when Congress passed the Congressional Gold Medal Award — a historic bill which former President Barack Obama signed into law, said Maj. General Antonio Taguba (Retired), chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.
Awarding the replicas to 18,000 surviving veterans and 2,000 survivors of the veterans is part of a three-year initiative spearheaded by Gen. Tabgua, Acohido said.
“(The medals are) to recognize the World War II Filipino veterans who on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor and Manila (Dec. 8) were simultaneously attacked and the Filipino and the Americans who were stationed in the Philippines defended the Philippines until the (Bataan) Death March, which was about April 1942,” he said.
“That’s the primary reason that in the historical annals we would like to have recorded the exploits of the Filipinos to World War II.”
Another reason for the recognition is more personal for the veterans, he said.
“These veterans were able to come to America if they chose,” he said. “Only the veterans and their wives could come to America and become American citizens, regardless of immigration quarters.”
For 70 years, Filipino veterans have been trying to get their dependents, their children, to America — regardless of the immigration quota, he said.
“Last year, by executive order, the term parole allowed these veterans in the United States to bring in their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren,” he said. “They have five years to do it — three years for the initiation and two years extension.”
Though Sixto has been on Kauai for years, his son, Cesar Tabay, made the move from the Philippines in 2012.
“Since my father’s a veteran, he was able to bring me to here. I’m very happy,” he said. “It’s very hard to come to the United States. I got my family and my wife.”
Cesar is proud his father is receiving a medal.
When the gold medal is minted by the Smithsonian Institute, it will be circulated to major cities.
“We hope we can bring it to Honolulu and have the veterans who are still alive living here to be part of the ceremony,” he said.
That includes those on the Neighbor Islands. Sixto said he plans to attend the ceremony.
“I’m very thankful,” he said with a smile.