Finding a pattern or model strike of a military decoration is a
rare event. It is also unusual to find a decoration named for a
youthful warrior acclaimed in an unsuccessful struggle for
independence, then “adopted” as a hero by two succeeding regimes,
This is the story of Philippine patriot Gen. Gregorio del Pilar
(1875 to 1899) and the Wounded Personnel Medal established in 1947 by
the newborn Republic of the Philippines.
The medal is represented in the American Numismatic Society
collection as a uniface gold (or massively gold-plated) strike without
loop or ribbon. The residue on the reverse is from an old exhibit
mount dating from the medal’s days in the Philippines.
During the Spanish-American War of 1898, American naval forces
under Commodore George Dewey overcame Spanish resistance and captured
the capital, Manila, partly with the help of Filipino revolutionaries
led by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Hoping that the Americans would free the
islands from the Spanish, Aguinaldo convened a revolutionary Congress
and proclaimed an independent republic.
The United States insisted on annexing the islands to prepare them
for future independence. Americans called the ensuing struggle the
Philippine Insurrection; Philippine nationalists called it the War for
Independence. It was a bloody guerrilla war that dragged on until 1902.
An epic battle took place Dec. 2, 1899, 4,500 feet up in the
mountains of Luzon at the lofty Tirad Pass. Aguinaldo and his command
evaded American pursuers under Maj. Peyton C. March with 300 American
soldiers and a detachment of Macabebe Scouts. The Filipino rearguard
of 60 riflemen under the college-age del Pilar held up the American
advance until Aguinaldo escaped.
Last to fall was the “boy-general.” His body was at first tossed
aside, but an American officer arranged burial with military honors
and erected a suitable monument. Fast-forward 45 years to a
Philippines under Japanese occupation, nominally ruled by a second
republic under President José Paciano Laurel. Before the return of
Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the exiled Commonwealth government in 1944,
Laurel established a Tirad Pass Medal for his government’s Philippine Constabulary.
All but one of the 15 recipients of that decoration received it
posthumously. It is rare today.
The third republic was inaugurated July 4, 1946, and on Oct. 6,
1947, established the Wounded Personnel Medal for troops injured or
killed in action, or who qualified for the pre-1941 Wound Chevrons.
The 37-millimeter bronze cross bore a high relief facing bust of Gen.
del Pilar and was made by José Tupaz’s Manila firm “El Oro.”
The ANS example is believed unique.
David T. Alexander is author of American Art Medals,
1909-1995 and a fellow of the American Numismatic Society.
He can be reached at email@example.com.