In October 2021, I decided to dive into Filipino American History Month through an illustration series. Here are a few highlights from WWII.

Magdalena Leones, 1920-2016

We had a spy in our midst! Corporal Magdalena Leoness — Filipina intelligence officer during WWII, and the first and only Asian to receive a US Armed Forces Silver Star Medal.

Magdalena “Maggie” Leoness was born to missionaries and served as a deaconess at her evangelical church. In WWII, she refused to surrender to the Japanese when they invaded the Philippines. Therefore, she was held prisoner for 5 months, during which she learned some Japanese.

This skill proved useful as Colonel Volckman of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines-North Luzon (USAFIP-NL) recruited her as a special agent. She was assigned to carry intelligence data, radio parts, and medical supplies through Japanese held areas. Her service aided General MacArthur to stay in communic ation with the Army after he retreated from the Japanese invasion and promised to return.

After the war, she kept her wartime adventures fairly private. She moved to California in 1969 and kept a low profile. It was her son who found about them when he was doing family research.

Filipino Veterans Fight for USA in WWII

With the Philippines being US territory in WWII, many Filipinos volunteered for the Army. Japan had invaded the Philippines the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. The Filipino soldiers were led under General Douglas MacArthur as the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE). President Roosevelt pledged to protect the Philippines and grant the soldiers the same veteran benefits as the US Army.

When MacArthur was defeated in the Battle of Bataan, he retreated and the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese in 1942. Even so, Filipino soldiers fought for the US as guerrilla fighters for the 3 years of the Japanese occupation. When MacArthur returned to liberate them, over a million lives were lost.

After WWII, Roosevelt granted the Philippines its independence. …However, the promise of full veteran benefits was broken with the 1946 Rescission Act. In fact, it was 70 years (2009) til some Filipino veterans were made eligible for benefits. At least 24,000 veterans have yet to receive anything (besides a Medal of Honor).

May we remember that, as we Americans enjoy our comfortable lives, and as racists yell at our parents and grandparents to “go back to your country,” that our freedoms were also fought for by veterans in and from the Philippines.