Hawaii unveils historic monument honoring Filipino WWII veterans

The state unveiled a new monument Friday to honor the sacrifices of tens of thousands of Filipino World War II veterans.
Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 4:05 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2023 at 5:38 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state unveiled a new monument Friday to honor the sacrifices of tens of thousands of Filipino World War II veterans.

It’s been more than five years in the making, with veterans and their advocates weighing in on what it should look like ― and where it should be.

They decided the best site is a place of learning.

That’s why four towering bronze sculptures now stand outside the Waipahu Public Library.

Friday’s unveiling was a monumental moment for attendees Arthur Caleda, Oscar Bangui and Faustino Garcia ― all veterans ― along with families of other veterans who couldn’t.

“We are very happy,” said Caleda, who is 99 years old.

Garcia turns 101 in August. With him at the ceremony were wife Erlinda, niece Miriam and nephew Rodolfo.

“It’s good, it’s for the future, especially for the grandchildren,” said Garcia’s wife Erlinda, whose father also served in the war.

In 2017, state lawmakers appropriated $200,000 for a permanent memorial for more than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino American soldiers who fought for the U.S. during World War II. The U.S. also awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal, but many veterans have died without any recognition.

Hawaii is believed to be the first state to commission such a monument. Artist Kelley Hestir worked with an advisory committee that chose the site site in a thriving Filipino community on Oahu.

“It will just generate more interest and generate more focus on the things that we wanted to do and pass that legacy on from generation to generation,” said Ron Han, a member of the Arts Advisory Committee and director of the state Department of Defense’s Office of Veterans Services.

“It’s great to honor our veterans. But I think the real honor is carrying that legacy forward in any way, in every way possible, to generation after generation after generation.”

Advocates hope the fixture will inspire young people who may never meet a Filipino WWII veteran or read their stories in a textbook.

“It teaches me strength. It teaches me power. It teaches me identity,” said Ella Lacanienta, whose grandfather died before he could personally receive the Congressional Gold Medal. “For it to be in front of the center of education, you can invite people to learn more about that. I think it’s very powerful.”

“A lot of us are going into military, it’s just nice to know what honor we have and what kind of representation we’re doing for them,” said Julia Yacas, of the Waipahu High School JROTC.

“Just to know how far we’ve come, especially since you know a lot of them brought us here, where we’re standing right now. And just looking at it right now, we’re here now, and we got to carry on that kind of legacy.”

The public can learn more about the contributions of Filipinos and Filipino Americans to helping the U.S. win World War II inside the library and through the nonprofit Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project at dutytocountry.org.

It estimates only about a dozen Filipino WWII veterans are left in Hawaii.

FilVetREP also produced “Faces of Courage: Untold Stories of World War II Filipino Veterans” with nonprofit Beta Beta Gamma Foundation’s MoveMeHawaii project. Watch the documentary by registering here.