WASHINGTON (AP) — Rudolpho "Rudy" Panaglima was just 13 when he joined his father in a Filipino guerrilla unit that worked in secret with the U.S. Army during World War II.
His youth helped Panaglima sneak past Japanese forces as a courier and scout, bringing back information, food and medicine to U.S. soldiers in the mountains of the Philippines, near his home in Cagayan.
Panaglima was among more than 250,000 Filipinos who fought with the United States during World War II, including at least 60,000 who were killed. After the war ended, President Harry Truman signed laws that stripped away promises of benefits and citizenship for Panaglima and other Filipino veterans.
Now 70 years later, Panaglima and other veterans are winning some of their benefits back. The veterans received lump-sum payments as part of the 2009 economic stimulus law, and as this week are eligible to be reunited in the U.S. with relatives living in the Philippines.
Panaglima, now 86, says two of his four grown children have been waiting to come to the U.S. since 1995. Under a program authorized by President Barack Obama, two sons living in the Philippines will soon move to suburban Washington to care for Panaglima and his wife, Pura, 83.
"That is what I am dreaming because of our age now," said Panaglima, who was the featured speaker Thursday at a Capitol ceremony marking the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole program. The program will allow an estimated 2,000 to 6,000 Filipino-American World War II veterans living in the U.S. to be reunited with family members who live outside the U.S., mostly in the Philippines.
"Filipino World War II veterans have been waiting patiently for decades to be reunited with their families," said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who worked with the Obama administration to create the program, which took effect Wednesday. The veterans and their spouses — most of whom are in their eighties or nineties — "will finally be able to apply to bring their adult children to the United States," Hirono said.
Retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, a Philippines-native who served in the U.S. Army for 34 years, said the reunification program begins to right a wrong "deeply rooted in American history."
"Slowly but surely our country has taken leadership to correct this injustice," Taguba said Thursday, noting that Filipino veterans who helped win World War II "paid a huge price."
For those who survived, "the humiliation and indignation they suffered still resonate," Taguba said.
Under the new program, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will allow Filipino veterans and their spouses to apply for a grant of parole that allows family members to come to the United States as they wait for immigrant visas to be approved. In limited cases, some relatives will be able to seek parole on their own behalf if the World War II veteran or spouse is deceased.
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