'They fought for Uncle Sam'
Filipino war veterans hope proposed immigration law will at last reunite them with their loved ones
BY TERRY MCGUIRE
World War II veterans Greg Garcia, left, and Presalliano Credo fought alongside American troops after the Japanese invaded their homeland.
Ramrod straight in their crisp white jackets with patriotic lapel pins, Greg Garcia, 89, and Presalliano Credo, 91, looked the part of the warriors they once were as they posed for a photo on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
They had gathered at the International Drop-In Center on south Beacon Hill, a nonprofit senior services center where they and other Filipino World War II veterans meet regularly. Their group, the Filipino War Veterans of Washington, is advancing in age and dwindling in number, down to about 15 vets locally at last count.
They are among approximately 16,000 veterans who came to the U.S. from the Philippines in the early 1990s after being granted citizenship for their military service through the Immigration Act of 1990. Some two decades later, however, many still wait for their adult children and grandchildren to join them here, victims of an immigration backlog in approving their petitions.
Garcia, commander of the state group, worries they are running out of time.
"It is not our fault that (we) die," he said.
Breaking the backlog
The vets are pinning their hopes on passage of the immigration bill now being debated in Congress. An immigration reform proposal that recently cleared a key Senate committee focuses on enhanced border security and increasing the number of green cards issued for merit and personal skills, but it also addresses the veterans' concerns by calling for an end to the backlog for their offspring.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last month approved an amendment to clear the backlog. The amendment was sponsored by Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono.
"The brave servicemen who are still with us, now in their eighties and nineties, should not have to wait any longer in order to be reunited with their children," Hirono said in a press release. She said the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans estimates that 20,000 children of veterans will benefit from the family reunification legislation.
The vets "are not just ordinary people filing for their families to come join us," said Conrado Rigor Jr., executive director of the International Drop-In Center and an advocate for their cause. "They've earned their stature as legitimate heroes; they fought for Uncle Sam."
Served with American troops
During the war the Philippines was a U.S. commonwealth (it gained its independence in 1946). When the Japanese invaded the islands in late 1941, the U.S., under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, conscripted several hundred thousand Filipinos into the military.
Garcia, a former altar boy and engineering student, joined an infantry unit and was assigned to guard a radio station in a heavily wooded part of Luzon, where he contracted malaria. He later returned to service with a signal company, repairing telephone lines.
Credo, who said he served as a chaplain before the war, was conscripted into the medical corps.
Following the war Garcia went on to a career as a civil engineer while Credo became a college economics teacher.
A third member of their group is Benito Valdez, 90, who was unable to take part in an interview with The Progress. He was among a unit of Filipino soldiers and guerillas that helped free more than 500 American and Canadian prisoners of war in a daring attack famously known as the Great Raid.
The three men and their comrades were in their retirement years when they came to the U.S. But complicating matters was a requirement they show proof of support for the people they had petitioned for. As a result, some were forced in their 70s to find menial jobs, Rigor said.
Valdez, for instance, a widower, found work as a dishwasher. Although he earned very little, with support from his church and others, he was able to bring one daughter here, Rigor wrote.
Still, Valdez "worries about who would care for him as he battles diabetes and a heart condition."
The long wait
Garcia, whose oldest daughter was able to immigrate because she was married to an American, waited almost 20 years before his second daughter's petition was approved. He still has two children and seven grandchildren he has petitioned for.
"When I arrived here (and) took the oath to become an American, they said after five years your children and grandchildren will be here," he said, "so we waited."
Credo, whose wife is with him, said it took nearly 12 years before their three daughters were allowed to immigrate.
Garcia and Credo, both Christians, said God was watching over them during the war. Garcia, now a member of City Church and formerly of St. James Cathedral Parish, was riding in a van just after the war ended when they rounded a curve and encountered two Japanese soldiers with a grenade. Though he believes the pair knew the war was over, they still could've killed them with a lob of the grenade, he said.
"It was God that helped us," he said.
Credo, who attends St. James Cathedral, came close to death when a bomb exploded as he lay near the trunk of a fallen coconut tree. Though his hearing in one ear was damaged, the tree saved his life, he said.
Rigor noted that it was Garcia who planted the seed that led to the lobbying effort for family reunification. The International Drop-In Center picked up the ball, he said, and soon veterans from around the country were contacting them.
Now legislators are finding out that "these are legitimate war heroes whose families were left behind," Rigor said. "It's so unfair; they are on their death beds now … and yet their families and support systems are still not here."
June 13, 2013