Patrick Ganio had lived to see his country invaded, its defenses smashed, and his comrades fall on the battlefield. But he had lived, and that was no small feat — not after the Allied surrender and the torturous march that followed, 60 miles inland from their defeat on the Bataan peninsula, all the way to the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Battered, wounded, and starving, the soldiers who stumbled along the way were swiftly dispatched, run through with the blade of a Japanese bayonet. There would be no slowing down. To falter meant certain death.
Still, Ganio had survived. In a war that claimed nearly 57,000 Filipino soldiers and untold numbers of civilians, Ganio lived to see the dawn of the Philippine liberation. He was freed, allowed to go home to his family and rejoin the fight on behalf of the Philippine resistance. By 1945, three years of Japanese occupation were at a close, and the end of World War II was mere months away. All it would take would be one final push to effectively expel the Japanese Army from the Philippine Islands.
That's how Ganio found himself once again in the battlefield, this time pinched between two mountain ranges on the rugged slopes of Balete Pass. Sniper fire whistled down from the peaks, where enemy fighters had barricaded themselves inside caves and pillbox bunkers. Control over Luzon, the Philippines' main island, was at stake.
Patriotism had first motivated Ganio to enlist back in 1941, fresh out of school at age 20. At the time, the Philippines were a United States territory — spoils from its victory in the Spanish-American War — and Ganio took to serving the United States military with zeal.
His father, a poor farmer, supported his decision to fight. He had always harbored high hopes for his bright young son. Ganio distinguished himself at an early age by learning to read using papers from the local Catholic church, and when it finally came time for Ganio to start school, his father cheered him on, carrying him to class atop his shoulders. He dreamt Ganio would escape the poverty that plagued the family. Ganio would have an education, a career, a future.
But the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 hit the Philippines like the opening blow in a one-two punch. Barely 10 hours later, as the U.S. scrambled to muster its defenses, the Japanese arrived on Philippine shores, ready to invade.
None of that shook Ganio's resolve. He was convinced the Allies would win, never wavering, not even after their defeat at Bataan and his imprisonment and torture.
And yes, the war would be won. The battle in Luzon would prove to be a decisive victory, the last major battle in the Philippines and a crucial step toward Japan's surrender. But it would not mark the end of the struggle for Philippine soldiers.
They would continue fighting for decades to come — only this time their goal was to reclaim the recognition stripped from them.
In 1946, barely a year after the war's close, the U.S. government would repeal all the "rights, privileges, or benefits" given to Filipino soldiers like Ganio, essentially denying that they had been active in the U.S. military at all.
But as he scrambled through the rubble and brush of Balete Pass, Ganio could not know what was to come. His future, as far as he saw, was as bright as the one his father had envisioned for him. He had a career as a teacher waiting for him, and his wife had just welcomed their first child.
Amid the bloodshed and fire, Ganio could not even be certain of how the day would end. He couldn't know that a bullet was barreling in his direction, destined for the back of his head, just millimeters from his brainstem. The war would re-shape his future in ways he could not yet comprehend.
The old man's body contorted before her, assuming every painful position he had been subject to during his torture by the Japanese. Jimiliz Valiente-Neighbours, a PhD student, was visiting Filipino veterans of World War II, hoping to answer a question: What did it mean to have served under the American flag? And now she was getting her answer, carefully reenacted before her, right down to the screams.
Five mysterious letters had launched her into this line of research: U-S-A-F-E. Valiente-Neighbours first noticed them etched on her grandfather's grave during a 2008 visit to her family in the Philippines. As Valiente-Neighbours later discovered, the letters were a misspelling for USAFFE, or the United States Army Forces in the Far East. No one had ever told her that her grandfather had served in World War II. That slice of family history felt hidden, and she was determined to find out why.
Before the Philippines' independence in 1946, its citizens were U.S. nationals, and in the lead-up to America's entry into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a proclamation. He ordered "all the organized military forces" of the Philippines to serve the U.S. military.
Approximately 260,000 Filipino servicemen were mobilized — soldiers, nurses, recognized guerilla units, and more. But after the war, the financial obligation of that mobilization loomed large. With the Philippines on the verge of independence, the U.S. Congress started to reconsider its commitment to Filipino veterans.
In February 1946, it issued the first of two Rescission Acts, both of which denied Filipino veterans the right to be recognized as active service members in the U.S. Armed Forces. In exchange, the U.S. offered the Philippine Army a sum of $200 million. It also paid compensation to Filipino soldiers disabled in the war and kin of those who were killed — sometimes at half the rate of their American counterparts.
Ultimately, Filipino servicemen were left stripped of their pensions, educational stipends, and medical care under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Just as important was the fact that the legislation seemed to negate any sacrifices the veterans made on behalf of the U.S.
President Harry Truman issued a statement re-iterating that Filipinos had "fought, as American nationals, under the American flag, and under the direction of our military leaders." Yet, despite asserting that the U.S. had a "moral obligation" to the veterans, he signed the Rescission Acts.
As Valiente-Neighbours learned about these events, she started reaching out to Filipino veterans, and was surprised to hear some of them insist that they were U.S. citizens, even though they had never even set foot on American soil. But as they saw it, they had sacrificed life and limb for the U.S. What could be more American?
Read the rest of this story at Narratively.