COLUMN: Never Too Late to Honor Our Heroes

November 6, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

As Americans, our heartfelt hope is that all of our heroes receive due recognition for great bravery and sacrifice. Our collective memory as a nation must expand to include all of our heroes’ stories of honor and service.

This November 11th, on Veterans Day, our nation will memorialize the sacrifice of veterans like my friend, Leslie Amundson.

From my hometown of Sunnyside, ‘Les’ served as an Army Air Corps B-17 pilot during World War II. On his first mission in 1943, his plane was shot down over the Dutch countryside. Les and his crew were assisted by the Dutch resistance and spent the next month in hiding before they were captured by the Gestapo. Les and his crew spent the next 18 months at the POW camp, Stalag Luft, near the Baltic Sea. Not all of them survived the harsh, freezing conditions, but Les did.

After his liberation, Les came back home to Sunnyside, where he married his wife, Helen, started a family, and farmed and served his community.

Leslie Amundson passed away on October 13th of this year at the age of 97, as the roll of honor of our living WWII veterans dwindles.

Many of our veterans have been recipients of our gratitude through national recognition, but others have slipped through the cracks. It is never too late to thank them.

This November 11th, we honor veterans like Gregario Azurin of Wapato. Born in the Philippines, Gregorio served in the U.S. Army on the other side of the globe in World War II, in the Pacific theater. Gregorio was one of a quarter-million Filipinos who joined with the U.S. to fight against the Japanese. 57,000 of those serving alongside U.S. forces lost their lives. Although these Filipino soldiers were promised citizenship for their service, few received it. There are currently 18,000 living Filipino veterans.

Gregorio, now 91, became an American citizen in 1995. He is one of two-dozen Filipino veterans in the Yakima Valley out of more than 200 living WWII veterans in Washington state who fought in the Philippines. For too long, Filipino veterans have not received acknowledgment for their role in winning the war.

On October 25th of this year, I was privileged to attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for all Filipino WWII veterans in Emancipation Hall in the U.S Capitol. Congress bestowed its highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, on all of these veterans. The ceremony represented a nation’s long overdue gratitude.

These are just two stories of almost 40,000 veterans in the 4th District, and each has sacrificed for our nation.  Although our veterans may serve with honor, they do not serve for public praise. As Americans, it is our duty to ensure that honorable service never goes unrecognized. For the service of all our veterans, past and present – like Leslie Amundson, whose memory we cherish, and Gregario Azurin – we say thank you.