Filipino Americans in WWII

Winston Ho 何嶸.  
University of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.
NolaChinese on FacebookYoutube, and Instagram.

2020 Jan. 27, Monday.


2020.01.27 - NolaFilipinos (WWII) - A

[Regimental patch of the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment.]

Here is an interesting article about the first Filipino American WWII monument in the U.S., which was built in 2006 in Los Angeles.

The Philippines were captured at the beginning of the Second World War, and captured Filipino soldiers were subjected to the same terrible conditions as their American counterparts in the Bataan Death March and in the Japanese POW camps. Most of the islands were liberated in the last year of the war, and Filipino soldiers fought with distinction under U.S. command. Some of the worst fighting of the Pacific War took place in the Philippines.

The Philippines were still a U.S. territory at the time, like Hawaii and Alaska, though Filipinos who immigrated to the U.S. after 1934 were classified as residents “aliens.” They were ineligible for citizenship and were denied many of the rights of earlier Filipino immigrants.

Franklin Roosevelt had promised citizenship to all Filipinos who fought in the U.S. military, but Congress apparently broke that promise after the president died and the war ended. Congress did keep its promise to grant the Philippines independence in 1946, and all Filipinos (except the Filipino Americans who were U.S. citizens before 1934, or had gained U.S. citizenship during the war) became citizens of this new nation. Congress only changed its mind in 1990, some four years after the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship, when it granted American citizenship to some 20,000 aging war Filipino veterans.

2020.01.27 - NolaFilipinos (WWII) - B[Regimental patch of the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment.]

Here is a 1943 newsreel showing Filipinos training in California for the 1st and 2nd U.S. Filipino Infantry Regiments.

There were several such segregated “all-Asian” infantry regiments, especially National Guard units from Hawaii and California. From what I can tell, the Filipino Infantry Regiments were comprised of both U.S.-born Filipino Americans from the cities and foreign-born Filipino immigrants working on California farms when the war began.

Here is a link to Noel Izon’s 2002 hour-long documentary “An Untold Triumph,” on the 1st and 2nd U.S. Filipino Regiment. Interestingly, the Filipino farm workers were unusually strong and made ideal soldiers, though many had lied about their age and were much older than the typical American GI.

The story of Filipino and Filipino Americans soldiers in WWII is a neglected story. If you are either a Filipino or Filipino American, what was your family doing the Second World War? Did members of your family serve in the war? Did anyone work in the war productions industry, such as Higgins Shipyards in New Orleans? Did you have family members who were separated because of the war?


NolaChinese:  Filipino Americans in WWII (

Kang, K. Connie. “New monument honors Filipino American vets.” LA Times (2006 Nov. 12).  Accessed from the LA Times (

An Untold Triumph – The Story of the 1st & 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments U. S. Army. Produced by Noel Izon.  Center for Asian American Media, 2002 (

An Untold Triumph on Youtube (

1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments Tribute Page (

[Note: I have seen inconsistent information in the secondary sources on exactly what the status of Filipino immigrants were during the war. Some sources claim the Filipinos were “nationals,” while other sources claim they were residents aliens. Some sources claim they were ineligible for citizenship, and others claim Filipinos in California were barred from joining the U.S. military until 1942.

In my own research, Chinese Americans volunteers were often turned away when they tried to enlist after the Pearl Harbor attack. They then went to another recruiting station and were allowed to enlist there instead. So, I suspect Chinese Americans being banned from military service was a matter of prejudice by individual recruiters, not military policy. This is the best explanation for how individual Chinese Americans could experience such discrimination, even though Chinese Americans were already serving in the military when the war began. This became irrelevant by the end of 1942, when Chinese Americans who didn’t already volunteer were being drafted.

Also, Chinese Americans who joined the U.S. Navy were normally only assigned as cooks when the war began. However, David Chin-Bing, an undergraduate at LSU who dropped out of school to join the Navy Reserves, was commissioned as an officer and served as a diver bomber pilot. He was perhaps the first Chinese American pilot is U.S. naval history. He may have been an exception, either because he was an American citizen who was born in New Orleans, or because he enlisted in Louisiana, or because he had a college education.

The 1934 Philippine Independence Act (Tydings–McDuffie Act) not only began the gradual transition of the Philippines from a colony to an independent nation, but changed the legal status of all “Filipino nationals” living in the U.S. to resident aliens. The act also imposed a quota system for the number of Filipinos who could immigrate to the U.S. in the future. This explains how a few Filipinos were able to enter the U.S. during and after the war, but were only able to do so by either obtaining one of the few visas allowed by the quota system, or through a special act of Congress, such as the War Brides Act. The quota system remained in effect until the Immigration Reform Act of 1965.]

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