Army 1st Lt. Felix Yapit got a posthumous medal last week along with the rest of the Filipino Scouts who fought alongside their American comrades in World War II.
Yapit died in 1999 in Colorado Springs, having earned a chestful of military honors, including two awards of the Bronze Star Medal and two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered as the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941. Now, his son, Air Force retiree Feliciano Yapit is working to get his father a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino war veterans unveiled last week in Washington, D.C.
It's a medal the Filipino troops earned with a legendary toughness that allowed them to endure Japanese invasion and occupation after Pearl Harbor.
The younger Yapit, 80, remembers his father coming home after more than three years in a Japanese prison camp.
"He was just 75 pounds when they turned him loose," Yapit said.
Filipino forces were a major part of the American war effort in 1941. The Pacific island chain was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War and held as a commonwealth until after World War II. Ahead of the Japanese attacks, the Philippines raised an army of more than 130,000 troops, including 22,000 Filipino Scouts such as Felix Yapit.
The outnumbered American and Filipino forces held out for months against the Japanese. They finally surrendered when they ran out of ammunition and food.
When the Philippines fell to the Japanese, though, Filipino troops suffered through reprisals. Felix Yapit was captured on the Bataan Peninsula and joined 66,000 of his comrades on a 70-mile march to internment.
"An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 Filipinos perished on the journey," Congress said in the measure awarding the gold medal.
Feliciano Yapit could sometimes pry war stories from his father. They weren't the kind you'd want to hear.
"He was on a burial detail at the camp," Feliciano said. "They would put 20 men in one hole."
Life was so hard inside the camps, in part, because so many Filipino troops weren't captured and never surrendered when the islands fell. Guerrilla fighters on the islands tormented the Japanese throughout the war. When U.S. troops arrived to reclaim one Philippine island, they were famously greeted by a guerrilla reception, complete with a brass band.
Felix Yapit, though, didn't have happy memories of the Japanese occupation.
"There were times when he would go silent, and the tears would roll down," his son said.
The elder Yapit signed on with the Army after the war, serving through the 1950s including combat in Korea before retiring.
Felix Yapit's toughness spawned an American military tradition. Feliciano served in the Air Force, earning the top enlisted rank of senior master sergeant.
His grandson, Edward, served 14 years in the Air Force.
"When it comes to customs and traditions, you carry that," Edward Yapit said.
The Yapit family hopes other Filipinos sign up for their congressional medals.
Edward Yapit said he's sure other families will want the honor. It's a Filipino thing, he said.
"They are very proud people," he said.