MANILA, Philippines – US Army Force Special Agent Magdalena Leones, the only Filipina to receive the Silver Star Medal during World War II, died on Thursday, June 16.
Leones, a 22-year-old teacher who was studying to be a nun in her hometown in Kalinga before the war broke out, became an intelligence officer for the United States Army Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NIL). She carried important intelligence data, radio parts, and medical supplies that put her life at risk multiple times.
The US corporal was arrested 3 times by the Japanese, but while in jail, she learned how to speak Niponggo. Her knowledge of the language saved lives when, at one point, she explained to a Japanese commander who was ready to fire upon a group of returning Filipino evacuees that they came from a wedding.
Aside from that, Leones, who served the US Army from February 27 to September 26 of 1944, was also credited for being able to take note of the names of enemy ships, its contents, and names of their skippers docked at San Fernando, La Union.
She was also the mastermind behind the blowing up of Japanese airplanes in the Tuguegarao airstrip.
Leones was the only Asian female to receive the Silver Star Medal, the third highest military decoration for valor awarded for “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.”
The citation reads, “Although she knew that detection by the enemy would result in torture and execution, Corporal Leones fearlessly continued her perilous missions between guerrilla forces throughout Luzon with notable success.”
It added that through “her intrepidity and skill as a special agent,” Leones was able to contribute to the early liberation of the country.
After the war
Leones kept a low profile after the war. She moved to California in 1969 where she worked as a clerk.
According to reports, Leones never talked about her war exploits and that her children didn’t know about them.
“I only started to research it now that I have a child. I started knowing it, and that’s when I started getting proud of her,” her son Gildon Tabor said in a news report.
Leones is survived by her 3 sons. She has 13 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.
World War II hero
The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, in a statement, condoled with the family of the World War II hero.
“She is a testament that women are also capable of defending our motherland…Her life embodied service and love for her fellow Filipinos, especially for her comrades who joined the guerrilla resistance movement and who are in need of government attention and support,” the statement said.
The office also gave assurances Leones will be given all the benefits and honors that she deserves, such as burial assistance, full military honors, and interment at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
While Leones was an unsung hero in the Philippines whose achievements were not written about in history books, she was awarded the Philippine Liberation Medal, the World War II Medal, and the Philippine Independence Ribbon. Some websites gave her the moniker “Lionness of the Filipina Agents.” – Rappler.com
Dwight De Leon is the president of DZUP Radio Circle, the official student organization arm of DZUP 1602. He is currently an intern at Rappler.