Counting on Clinton for invisible veterans

Rozita Lee, a Hawaii native who was living on the islands when Pearl Harbor was bombed, fights for men often called invisible veterans: soldiers who fought for the United States in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, yet were denied U.S. benefits at war's end.

The creative director of the "Drums of the Islands" Polynesian revue at the Imperial Palace, who has entertained Las Vegas audiences for more than 16 years, says she cannot believe Filipino soldiers whose bravery gave U.S. forces time to prepare for the allied counterattack on Japan still aren't treated on an equal plane with other veterans.

"Americans do the right thing," says Lee, 73, as she campaigns for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in front of a seafood market on Maryland Parkway. "I am caucusing for Hillary Clinton because she is working to correct this injustice."

In 1941, when the Philippines was an American colony, President Roosevelt ordered the 250,000-member Filipino military into service of the United States.

Though thousands of Filipino soldiers fought bravely, with many enduring the infamous Bataan Death March, Congress passed a law in 1946 divesting them of veterans benefits.

"It just wasn't fair," says 86-year-old Francisco Cedula of Las Vegas, who was bayoneted and left for dead by the Japanese at the Battle of Bataan. "We loved the United States, and many of our people gave their lives for it."

Cedula took advantage of the U.S. government's 1990 offer of citizenship to the Filipino veterans living in the United States. Since 2000, they have received some health benefits and the right to be buried as veterans in U.S. military cemeteries.

Cedula, now frail with age, is a Clinton backer too, saying the Democrat is the most likely to correct what he sees as a grave injustice.

Filipino veterans -- about 6,000 in the United States and 12,000 in the Philippines -- are dying at the rate of about 10 a day.

"These men finally deserve official gratitude for their service to our country," Lee says.