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21 January 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.—More than seven decades after he saw action in Bataan, a Filipino World War II veteran received a long overdue decoration—the Purple Heart—the oldest military award of the United States that is awarded to soldiers wounded in combat.

Retired Maj. Jesse Baltazar, a 94-year-old veteran who also served in Korea, and Vietnam, received his Purple Heart from US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno in ceremonies at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, on 20 January.

Baltazar was with his wife and five children when he received the Purple Heart, which is one of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to members of the US armed forces. It was introduced as the “Badge of Military Merit” by George Washington in 1782.

Retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, head of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the Philippine Embassy, said Baltazar was a member of the Army's 71st Infantry Battalion when he was wounded in the leg by Japanese planes that attacked their positions in the Bataan Peninsula shortly before Filipino and American troops were forced to surrender. 

Lorenzana said Baltazar was able to escape the Death March and later joined the guerilla movement against the Japanese until American forces returned to liberate the Philippines in 1944.

“I am very happy for Jesse Baltazar for finally receiving his long overdue Purple Heart He had been dreaming of this moment for the past 70 years,” said General Lorenzana, who attended what he described as an emotionally memorable and meaningful ceremony. 

However, General Lorenzana said the decades-long wait Baltazar had to go through before receiving the award is not unusual for Filipino World War II veterans.

“The 70-year wait of Jesse Baltazar for his medal is typical of the plight of many Filipino World War II veterans who continue to wait for the recognition and benefits due them for their service to the US flag during the Great War,” General Lorenzana said. 

“Jesse Baltazar is lucky to live long enough to personally receive his medal. Many others were not so lucky,” he said as he expressed the hope that Baltazar’s case would spur the US Government to act with urgency to give recognition and benefits to aging and dying Filipino veterans.###

21 January 2015