California and Second World War
California's Filipino Infantry
by Alex S. Fabros
A Short History of the 1st & 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments of the U. S. Army in World War II

Among the annals of American military histories, the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, Army of the United States, is considered to be unique. A military unit is created out of a need for a purpose, each with a mission to fulfill. The 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, in its creation, was based upon the circumstances of the period in time.

Dating back to the Revolutionary War, many of the original militias began in the colonies for a purpose. The Civil War and subsequent military campaigns and hostilities, justified the creation of specialized units. World War I brought back those units, long ago deactivated, to continue the lineage of their famous counterparts and further distinguish themselves on the battlefield.

The circumstances of World War II, brought about the constitution of various ethnic American military units. Among them was the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, consisting of a blend of Filipino expatriates, Filipino Americans by birth, and white Americans. The 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, humble in its beginning, however, dramatic in the challenge of the mission it had to fulfill, to finally retire with honors earned through individual sacrifices, that resulted in a brilliant and illustrious history.

The American people, by Act of Congress in 1935, promised the Filipino people their full independence by the year 1946. The new Philippine Commonwealth government proceeded to assume the task of a new democracy, and in doing so, had established a militia, with the help of General Douglas MacArthur, then assigned as Military Advisor by the United States government.

Just six years into being formed, the Philippine Army, with the American trained Philippine Scouts, and the American Armed Forces stationed in the Philippines, came under attack, and within a few months found the invading Japanese Military forces solidly entrenched on Philippine soil. The following year American and Philippine forces stubbornly fought to defend the islands, only to surrender to overwhelming conditions in early 1942. Freedom and democracy was not to be earned easily. Many Americans and Philippine troops refused to accept surrender. Some escaped to eventually return with allied forces. Others remained behind and began a crusadeagainst the enemy.

By the time America entered World War II, there were over a hundred thousand transplanted Filipinos in Hawaii and the United States mainland. The impact of the unprovoked attack brought on the call for volunteers for our armed forces. Thousands of Filipinos answered the call to arms, which began a new page in Filipino heritage. These Filipino American units played a tremendous role in the liberation of their former homeland.

What these Filipino Americans did to the Japanese invaders of their homeland is unmentionable. What the Japanese said of these men is unspeakable in any language.

To the surviving veterans, and to those who paid the supreme sacrifices as members of these units, a salute in their honor is presented.

The 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment

The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Filipinos in the United States, those we now respectfully call the "manongs," began a drive to form an all-Filipino military unit. Quickly trained, Filipino immigrants turned-soldiers would be sent to help push the Japanese out of the Philippines. They would fight bravely for the liberation of their homeland and for their right to be American citizens.

These members of the manong generation were so despised by white America that senators from the western states pushed for Philippine independence, hoping these men would return to the Islands. They were relegated to the bottom of American society, yet they saw opportunities here for a better life and they fought for the right to be Filipinos in America. by 1941, the manongs had been fighting in the United States for over 20 years for wages and living conditions equal to whites and had built militant labor unions in Hawaii, California and Alaska. In the courts they were pioneering civil rights issues, including the right to own property, equal job opportunities and the repeal of racially biased laws. And they were winning.

The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 treated the Filipinos in the U.S. as aliens. Although the Philippine Commonwealth Constitution permitted the United States to draft Filipinos in the Philippines to defend American interests there, Filipinos in the United States, quite ironically, were exempt from military service.

Thousands of Filipinos had petitioned for the right to serve in the U.S. military immediately after December 7, 1941. On January 2, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a law revising the Selective Service Act. Filipinos in the United States could now join the U.S. Armed Forces and they were urged to volunteer for service. President Roosevelt quickly authorized the founding of a Filipino battalion, which would be organized for service overseas. It estimated the number of available Filipino volunteers between 70,000 and 100,000.

The 1st Filipino Battalion was formed on March 4, 1942 and activated in April 1 at Camp San Luis Obispo, California. Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Offley, who had served in the Philippines and spoke passable Tagalog, volunteered to be assigned to the unit as its first commander. He assumed command in April 8, 1942. The War Department also directed Philippine army officers and soldiers who were stranded in the United States at the start of the war to report to the unit. An unusual point is the designation of the unit. Previous Filipino units in the U.S. Army had been designated "Philippine" such as the Philippine Scouts. All units raised in the U.S. during the war were designated "Filipino." Also, it would not be until the end of the war that the Filipino military units would carry the designation "Infantry" in their title although their regimental colors from the very beginning were displayed on a blue field, the traditional color of the infantry branch of the army.

A number of wounded Philippine Army and Philippine Scouts had escaped to Australia from the Philippines on board the USS Mactan in December 1941. Some remained in Australia to form the nucleus of what would eventually become the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, but the rest were sent to the United States for further medical treatment. These men eventually reported to the 1st Filipino Battalion.

Contrary to popular belief, the 1st Filipino Battalion was not established as a result of the American policy of social segregation. Only Filipinos who volunteered for assignment to the unit were sent to it. Many others, such as Eutiquio V. "Vic" Bacho, served with distinction in "American" (white) units in the European theater of operations during the war. Doroteo Vite wrote in a national magazine that Filipinos should take the opportunity to serve in all-white units to educate them so that at the end of the war, white Americans would support the Filipino American agenda of equality. Vite in the spring of 1944 rowed ashore in a rubber dingy from a submarine to establish guerrilla operations in the southern Philippines.

Many of these men were part of the migratory labor force that followed the harvest season along the Pacific Coast, from California farms to Washington fruit orchards and Alaskan fish canneries. Others had lifted themselves by their "bootstraps" into college and took the limited white collar jobs that were open to them. Having endured white America's racism, these men knew how to adapt to rapidly changing situations. They relied upon one another for strength. Communal living on the farms permitted them to adapt quickly to military life.

Leading Filipino musicians of the time made up the regimental band. Sergeant Urbano Francisco composed the regimental marching song, "On toBataan;" but it was not uncommon for the men to march to the strains of the latest "boogie woogie" or "swing" song.

By the end of May 1942, the strength of the 1st Battalion had reached over 2,000 men. The unit was ordered to Salinas, California where it became the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment on July 13, 1942. The Salinas rodeo grounds which had just been vacated by Japanese Americans who had been sent to remote concentration camps, housed the regiment. Because of the strict anti-miscegenation laws then in effect along the U.S. west coast, many of them married into other non-white ethnic groups. Among the most popular group to choose from were Japanese women, the daughters of Issei immigrant farmers. The manongs must have impressed the Japanese women greatly to cause many of them to reject the strong Japanese dislike of "Gai-jins" (foreigners). C. Sales wrote in the January 29, 1934 issue of the Philippine Mail of a young Romeo-and-Juliet couple. A certain Silvestre, a Filipino, and Alice Taneka, a Japanese, were engaged to be married. When her family tried to force her to break off their engagement, they committed double suicide.

In April 1942, Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt, Western Defense Commander, ordered the Japanese on the West Coast into concentration camps. Miguel Ignacio, secretary of the Filipino American community of San Francisco, called attention to several American-born Japanese women, citizens of the United States, who had Filipino husbands, and Filipino-Japanese children who were U.S. citizens by birth. Despite the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union, Dewitt ordered the women and children to spend the duration of the war in the internment camps. Many of these Filipino husbands went on to serve in the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments, defending the nation whose racist policies held their families hostage.

In September 1942, the first group of qualified Filipino enlisted men was sent to the Officer Candidate School, Fort Benning, Georgia. Upon graduation, they were commissioned second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. The War Department planned to have Filipino officers eventually command the majority of the combat units in the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments. Events beyond the control of the military planners in Washington, D.C. intervened to prevent this from being fully implemented.

So many Filipino volunteers came from all over the United States that the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment was formed at Fort Ord, California on November 22, 1942. In January 1943, the 1st Regiment was reassigned to Camp Beale, near Sacramento and the 2nd Regiment to Camp Cooke, near Santa Maria. The two regiments were to be joined by a third regiment consisting of Filipinos from the Hawaiian National Guard. However, the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Association argued successfully with the martial law commanders in Hawaii that not only was cheap labor on the plantations necessary to support the war effort, the Filipinos in Hawaii were forbidden by the Tydings-McDuffie Act from going to the continental U.S. The men could not leave the sugar plantations and were paid substandard wages for the duration of the war. This would have serious consequences in 1946 when the militant Filipino labor unions shut down the islands until their demands for wage increases and better working conditions were met.

As a result of a May 1942 Gallup Poll showing strong support for the naturalization of Filipinos, the Filipino Naturalization Bill was passed. Pinoy GI's were urged to apply for U.S. citizenship. A mass swearing in of over 1,000 soldiers was held at Camp Beale on February 20, 1943. Many of the men, however, resisted becoming citizens. T-5 Julius B. Ruiz stated that although he had lived in the United States for many years and was now serving in the U.S. Army, his goal was to liberate his country, the Philippines. by the time the 1st Regiment left for the western Pacific in May 1944, over half of the men in the unit were U.S. citizens.

From January 1943 through the spring of 1944, the two regiments went through extensive combat training at Hunter Liggett Military Reservation and Camp Roberts. They were also selected to represent the U. S. Army in many community activities and parades from San Diego, California to San Francisco.

Although the Filipinos along the Pacific Coast were restricted by anti-Filipino laws from becoming professionals, there was no such restriction for Filipinos residing east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Filipinos who aspired to enter the medical and legal professions were able to graduate from schools and practice their profession in the East. The officer ranks were filled by these talented men. One officer, Lieutenant Frank Aquino, a U.S. born medical officer from Salinas, California who had studied in the East, saved the live of General Hideki Tojo, former Japanese Premier who attempted suicide in September 1945. Major Gregorio Chua, amedical officer who assisted in the evacuation of wounded personnel from Manila aboard the USS Mactan was pulled from the 1st Regiment and sent to serve in the Pacific in the summer of 1943 because of a shortage of doctors. He rejoined the regiment at the end of the war in Leyte. Captain Gregorio Sese, company commander in the 2nd Infantry Regiment was a successful practicing attorney in Washington, D.C. before the war. He was assigned to review the death sentences of Japanese accused of war crimes at the end of the war.

Another reason for the drop in strength was passage of what was commonly called the "P-38 Law" that exempted soldiers over the age of 38 from having to serve in combat or the military. Many of the Filipinos chose to leave the service and returned to work on the farms where they were badly needed or sought opportunities in the defense industries. Because of the acute shortage of skilled farm labor, California, like Hawaii, was able to restrict the number of Filipinos permitted to join the military. Combined with the demands of General MacArthur for men to fill the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, the two regiments were never able to come to full combat strength. In March 1944, the 2nd Regiment was used to bring the 1st Regiment up to 125% strength. The 2nd Regiment was disbanded on March 27, 1944 and the 2nd Filipino Infantry Battalion (Separate) was formed. Thirty officers were sent to Charlottesville, Virginia for civil affairs training in April 1944.

Before the 1st Regiment departed for the western Pacific in May 1944, Colonel Offley had a major dilemma on his hands. Even though his regimental chaplains were prepared to perform marriage ceremonies between the Filipino soldiers and their white girlfriends, the strict anti-miscegenation laws in California prevented the men from applying for marriage licenses. Colonel Offley solved this by sending his soldiers and their sweethearts to Gallup, New Mexico on chartered buses that soon came to be called the "honeymoon express."

Meanwhile in New Guinea, the 1st Regiment quickly integrated its first batch of replacements consisting of Filipino Americans from Hawaii. Colonel Offley gave Lt. Col. Leon Punsalang, a West Point graduate, command of the 1st Battalion. This was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that Asian Americans commanded white troops in combat.

The 1st Regiment landed at Tacloban, Leyte on February 7, 1945 and fought the Japanese troops on Samar. In one combat action, the regiment reported killing 1,572 Japanese soldiers while five of its men were killed in action. In May 1945, the regiment began operations in northern Leyte in the Villaba-Palompon sector where it fought heavily for the next two months, registering an average of 40 Japanese killed and 32 captured a day. The 2nd Filipino Infantry Battalion, as a unit, never saw combat. It was sent to Manila to provide support to the PCAUS operating there.

On August 10, 1945, all operations for the "1st and 2nd" in the Philippines came to a close. Sergeant Urbano M. Francisco, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, in his after action report, complained that white soldiers who served with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion returned Filipino hospitality with prejudice and disrespect. On August 15, 1945, in an open field in San Miguel, the unit was called together for one last time. The commanding officer and several other white officers who never went on a mission but stayed in relative safety in Australia and New Guinea, had nominated themselves and received the Legion of Merit. The Filipino American officers who had been nominated for the Legion of Merit for their dangerous work in the Philippines stood in shocked disbelief and seething anger as they each received the Bronze Star Medal instead. Lieutenant Al Hernandez was lucky; he had received his Legion of Merit directly from General MacArthur.

The 1st Reconnaissance Battalion was deactivated. The PCAUS were disbanded and their operations turned over to the Philippine government. The men assigned to the CIC, 6th Ranger Battalion, and Alamo Scouts were released back to the 1st Regiment. The men were given leaves and told to report to the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment in Ormoc, Leyte.

The families of many of these men had given up hope of ever seeing their sons and brothers return from the land of broken promises and dreams. The manongs, who were despised by white America, and yet were needed in the American farms and fisheries, returned to their Philippine homeland as heroes. When the men reported back to the 1st Regiment on Leyte, many brought with them new brides. The Filipino soldiers took advantage of Public Law 271: The War Brides Act of December 28, 1945 and Public Law 471: The Fiancees Act of June 29, 1946 to marry Filipina women. Colonel William Robert Hamby, who had replaced Colonel Offley, established a "tent city" for the married couples. Before its expiration on December 31, 1953, many manongs took advantage of the War Brides Act and returned to the Philippines to marry. These families became the nucleus of a new generation of Filipino Americans and invigorated the Filipino American community in the United States.

In March 1946, men who wanted to remain in the Philippines or were not yet eligible to return to the U.S. were transferred to the 2nd Infantry Battalion, then stationed in Quezon City. It was disbanded on March 31, 1946 and the men were assigned to the Filipino Section, 86th Infantry Division. The 1st Regiment troops returned to the United States aboard the USS General Calan and arrived in San Francisco in the early morning hours of April 8, 1946. They were bused to Camp Stoneman, near present-day Pittsburgh, California and quickly discharged. A few men were present on the morning of April 9, 1946 when the flag, hand sewn by the wives of the Filipino officers of the regiment, was folded for the last time. A member of the unit stole into the mailroom and took the flag home with him. It continues to be flown at unit reunions throughout the United States.

Insignia of Filipino Battalions and Regiments
Courtesy of the US Army Institute of Hearldry

Description: On a yellow disk 3 1/4 inches in diameter with a 1/8 inch edge, a conventionalized black volcano emitting smoke, the volcano charged with three yellow mullets in fess.

Symbolism: The volcano represents the area in which the units were located. The three stars are taken from the Philippines Coat of Arms which represents the principle islands - Luzon and Mindanao, and the Visayan Islands.

Background: The insignia was requested for the lst Philippine Battalion; however the unit was changed to the lst Philippine Regiment. The authorization approved on August 6, 1942, was for all Philippine Battalions

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Updated 8 February 2016