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Marking a military honor decades later for Filipino veterans of World War II

As May is Asian-American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to remember the men who fought alongside Allied forces in the Pacific
Posted at 7:24 PM, May 24, 2023

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Pearl Cruz-Morrison's home captures her heritage of a life that has been a true global adventure, from coasts to Canada.

"We are the keepers of our cultural heritage," Cruz-Morrison recently said in her Cape Coral house, with a theme of the Pacific. "No one can share it unless it comes from us."

What a journey for her family. The youngest of five, Cruz-Morrison grew up in the Philippines, the daughter of a retired general.

Only Antonio Cruz lived his early life as a true hero of World War II.

General Cruz, who preferred to be known as a "colonel" according to his daughter, fought alongside American soldiers and Marines in 1942 in the Philippines.

"When war broke out, he was already an officer," said Cruz-Morrison. "Some of his stories were about sweet potatoes. (The men) were starving and he always told people, 'do not burn it! Do not burn it!' Somebody did and, even under a mango tree, that's how they were discovered by the Japanese soldiers.

What followed was one of the most historically-horrific experiences of any prisoner-of-war in modern warfare.

General Cruz survived the Bataan Death March in April 1942, where estimates of up to 18,000 prisoners of war died, under Japanese command. Nearly all of the deaths were from Filipino servicemen along with hundreds of U.S. military members.

"The Filipino soldiers, who fought side-by-side with the U.S. military, were promised compensation, citizenship, recognition," said Cruz-Morrison.

After World War II ended in 1945, some of the Filipino veterans stayed in their native country, many others moved to North America for a new life. Only the recognition did not follow as the Rescission Acts of 1947 revoked promised compensation and nationality status of Filipino soldiers who served just years before.

Pearl Cruz-Morrison was born on an air base in the Philippines and lived in Toronto before moving to Cape Coral twenty years ago.

As the decades wore on and the Filipino veterans of World War II grew past middle age and well into their final years, the formal recognition did not come.

"It was acknowledged and recognized in 2015," said Cruz-Morrison, pointing to the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015. Congress easily passed the act and then-President Barack Obama signed it into law.

"Those veterans, in their teens and their early twenties (during the war) and in their nineties (in 2015)," said Cruz-Morrison.

The gold medal came too late for Antonio Cruz to see it with his own eyes. General Cruz died in 2003 after a long and respected life. His daughter is quick to talk about the connections between the Philippines and the United States.

Cruz-Morrison also talked about one Filipino veteran who was honored while still alive. Ponciano Mauricio died in February 2023, in Cape Coral. The World War II veteran and civil engineer worked, under General Douglas MacArthur, to build bridges and destroy others to slow down advancing Japanese troops. Like General Cruz, Mauricio also survived the Bataan Death March in April 1942.

Mr. Mauricio was a longtime Cape Coral resident who moved to Southwest Florida in 1985, according to his obituary. In 2017, he received the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony here in Southwest Florida.

Two men, Antonio Cruz and Ponciano Mauricio, represented the best of a generation and, ultimately, the best of two nations.

"The Filipino people, and the country itself, has always been very loyal to the American nation and it has been a partnership going back to World War II," said Pearl Cruz-Morrison. "We need to recognize that. We need to celebrate that."