LFM: Jose Nisperos, First Asian MOH Winner
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2009
In September 1911, Philippine Scout Private Jose B. Nisperos, following extremely violent combat action against Moros insurgents, became the first Asian to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
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Lead: For 400 years, service men and women have fought to carve out and defend freedom and the civilization we know as America. This series on A Moment in Time is devoted to the memory of those warriors whose sacrifice gave, in the words of Lincoln at Gettysburg, the "last full measure."
Content: In September 1911, Philippine Scout Private Jose B. Nisperos, following extremely violent combat action against Moros insurgents, became the first Asian to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. That he should be fighting in the Philippines at all, at the side of American soldiers, emerged from a debate at the highest levels of the United States government over whether the United States should become an imperial power. At the conclusion of the Spanish-American war, America had received Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from Spain. Eventually the imperialist argument won because, as a rising power, the United States saw economic opportunity in East Asia and wished to have a base there.
Filipinos, who had been fighting the Spanish for years, were naturally resentful that they had traded one colonial master for another. For three years, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, they conducted guerrilla operations against American forces. Through a campaign of "carrot-and-stick" tactics and acts of extreme brutality as well as profound generosity, the United States campaign prevailed. By 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt was able to declare that--with the exception of the southern Philippine areas ruled by the Moros, indigenous Islamic Filipinos who were bitterly opposed to all infidels (Spanish as well as American)-- the Philippine insurrection was over. Over the next decade the United States conducted an anti-guerrilla campaign against the Moros using primarily native fighters, especially the Philippine Scouts.
Jose Nisperos was born in 1887, and in 1907 enlisted in the Scouts in his hometown of San Fernando. He was 5 feet 5-1/3 inches tall and was described as quiet and reserved, with limited English skills. In action against the Moros near Lapurap Mountain on Basilan Island in 1911, after being seriously injured in the left arm and abdomen, he dug the stump of his arm into the ground where he lay wounded and continued firing his rifle to protect his compatriots and prevent the mutilation of their bodies. His arm had to be amputated but, as a result of his courage under fire, in 1913 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Nisperos was honorably discharged and served as a local policeman until his death in 1922.
Research assistance by Erin Morgan, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.