Congress honors 99-year-old Filipino WWII veteran

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On the eve of Veterans' Day, a 99-year-old Filipino man received a long overdue medal for his service to the United States in World War II.

Amado Ante's story is a remarkable one of survival and bravery, but he's not the only veteran of that war who's waited this long to be recognized.

At an Oct. 25 ceremony on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi presented the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow -- the Congressional Gold Medal -- to the Filipino veterans of World War II.

More than 200,000 of them answered President Franklin D. Roosevelt's call to serve alongside U.S. troops in that war, even though many of them had no combat training.

"Together, our fighters ensured that freedom would triumph," Pelosi said.

Though Ante served the United States as both a soldier and a civilian for many years after the war and danced competitive tango until he was 90, he doesn't travel much anymore -- so Congresswoman Jackie Speier delivered his gold medal in person.

"Thank you. Thank you very much," Ante said in a near-whisper.

"You are a great American hero," Speier replied.

Ante is an especially humble hero. He survived what's known as the Bataan Death March, in which thousands of prisoners captured by Japanese troops were forced to walk more than 60 miles on their way to a prison camp.

"Fourth or fifth day of the march, he had contracted malaria, as well as his feet were swelling," recanted Amado's son Steven, who didn't learn of his father's bravery until he was an adult.

Along the march, Japanese soldiers routinely executed prisoners who were slowing the group's progress, so fearing his own demise, Ante saw an opportunity to escape, and took it.

"To escape, you have to be brave," he recalled. "You have to be brave."

Ante hid in a ditch until nightfall, when locals rescued him. He gives them credit for his survival.

"People in the area, they helped," he said.

Although the Filipino veterans and their surviving family members are finally being honored by Congress, Speier says it's not enough.

"I'm sure their widows and those still alive would much prefer to have the veterans' benefits they were promised," she said.

During the war, President Roosevelt promised full veterans' benefits to Filipino citizens who served in the U.S. effort to liberate the Philippines from Japan. But after the war, President Truman signed a law that took those benefits away.

Speier is now part of a movement to reinstate full U.S. veterans' benefits for Filipino soldiers, like Ante, who became American patriots.

"In his heart," Steve Ante said, "he'll always serve the U.S."
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