Rarely do we stand in awe in honor of a Soldier like Celestino Almeda. He is timeless in serving his country and able to tell his powerful story.
He was born on June 8, 1917 in Binan, Laguna, Philippines. As a Filipino-American WWII veteran, he fought against Japanese Imperial Forces from 1941-1945 in the Philippines. During the war, he served as a 3rd Lieutenant in the Philippine Commonwealth Army, and later as a 2d Lieutenant in the Recognized Guerrilla forces of the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.
He is the embodiment of Patriotism and Duty to Country. He not only fought for his country of birth – the Philippines, but also the country he swore allegiance to defend – the United States. This was in World War II in the Philippines. His storied accomplishments in war, and as a veteran advocate for social justice and equity represented similar stories of thousands of fellow Veterans he served with.
He survived the horrific battles in World War II. After the war, he and his fellow soldiers fought a long and arduous battle at home for their recognition as courageous and honorable men and women who willingly served their country.
He was one of the 260,000 Filipinos and Americans who fought under the American flag from Dec 1941 to September 1945. He survived the war, but later experienced the insurmountable challenges in pursuit of benefits promised him, and to thousands of his fellow soldiers. He was determined to fight for their benefits, but he did not realize how long this fight would last.
In February 1946, the US Congress passed the Recission Acts which denied the active duty status and revoked the US nationality status of 200,000 Filipino WWII soldiers. Promised compensation were not made available for their wartime service.
Mr Almeda helped organize a national action organization comprised of WWII veterans, civic leaders, community action servants to call attention to the injustice and inequality the Veterans suffered at the end of WWII. They were determined to be heard, to confront and appeal to Congress, to protest their case for equity, and generate inspiration across the land that fighting for one’s country, to willingly serve, to die if need be, merits respect and acknowledgement.
Patriotism is about loyalty and devotion to American ideals and values. Duty to country is having the moral obligation and responsibility to bear arms and serve. Mr Almeda and his brothers in arms never wavered in their faith, hope, and trust of the United States.
He was undaunted against countless obstacles along his path. He and his fellow veterans were undeterred on being denied repeatedly on their case by members of Congress, senior leaders at the Dept of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Army. They were relentless and persuasive in presenting their case to audiences at civic events across the country. They deserved to be recognized, be respected, to be afforded their modest benefits, and be called veterans. They have earned the honor and privilege in war, and their willingness to fight for their rights.
He exemplified the words of the Army Creed – “…I am an American Soldier…I serve the people of the United States…I will always place the mission first…I will never accept defeat…I will never quit….”
On October 24, 2017, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs approved his appeal for benefits and received the back pay he deserved for his wartime service. This took over 7 years after numerous appeals, denials, and even a public humiliation at an open event. His strength of will and moral courage would not let him be intimidated from being shunned or shut down. He had won a personal victory that day, and an enduring hope for his fellow veterans to never quit.
Then, on October 25, 2017, Mr Almeda was presented the Congressional Gold Medal by House Speaker Paul Ryan at the Emancipation Hall, US Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on behalf of the men and women who served in the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East.
In his acceptance remarks, he introduced himself as Celestino Almeda, a 100 years old veteran. He added “I have waited along with my Filipino and American soldiers for this moment to come. After the war, thousands of us felt under appreciated and unrecognized for fighting for our country. We often wondered why and what else could we have done in defeating the enemy, in defending the United States, and bringing victory during a long war in the Philippines.”
In accordance with Public Law 114-265, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, he and his band of brothers and sisters were legally authorized to be called Veterans of World War II.
They do not want to be forgotten even in death. They want to be remembered simply for the honor and privilege to serve for their Duty to Country – worth dying for.
At his old and frail age, Mr Celestino Almeda is a living institution – a Citizen-Soldier with unquestioned character and integrity, loyal to the core, who served and fought for his country and for veteran’s rights.
In the word of General Douglas MacArthur “ Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Celestino Almeda’s story of Patriotism and Duty to Country will never die.