Oldest living Filipino WWII veteran on Oahu receives Congressional Gold Medal for 100th birthday
Private First Class Francisco Benigno, Sr. -- or Kiko as he's known -- waited a long time for this historic moment.
Not turning 100... but being recognized by the U.S. government for his service.
He received the Congressional Gold Medal on Dec. 3 at a ceremony at Fort Shafter, surrounded by his family, friends, the military community and representatives from the city and state.
"I'm very happy to receive my gift," Benigno said, with a smile.
The medal is the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress for one's significant impact on American history.
His impact -- being one of 260-thousand Filipino soldiers who fought alongside American troops in 1941, when the Philippines was a commonwealth. He is the oldest known surviving Filipino veteran of World War II on Oahu.
Kiko was 25 years old when we was honorably discharged, but like other Filipino vets, he didn't receive the benefits that were promised by the U.S. government.
So while he survived the horrors of the Bataan Death March and a prison camp, he found himself fighting another battle... one for respect and recognition. At today's medal ceremony, he finally received it.
"Like any culture here in Hawaii, everyone had their turn to be at the bottom of the ladder and so just be proud of who you are," said Cindy Losbog, one of Kiko's 33 grandchildren.
"This means a lot to the family because for his age, to reach that age of raising 10 kids and giving them respect and we learn from him. It just makes us feel real great about being here with him today to celebrate," said his youngest son Ceasar Benigno.
The national non-profit Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) organizes these ceremonies across the country. It estimates there are less than 10,000 surviving Filipino vets of World War II in the U.S. and the Philippines.
"Even if they've passed on, they can still get the Gold Medal. They just need one person in the family to be the one to receive it," said Anita Loando-Acohido, Region 11 Director of FilVetREP.
It's a valuable lesson for future generations.
"It's so important to learn about them to give you a good grounding and find out who you are and what life means to you," Losbog said.
FilVetREP works to keep these heroes' memories alive and make sure their families receive the benefits they fought for.