For the family of the late John Northcott, it was icing on the cake.
Two years of family research had already paid off – Northcott was posthumously awarded with more than a dozen medals for his service in the Navy and his immediate family was united with distant relatives.
But on Saturday, Northcott, who was a prisoner of war in World War II, received one of the nation’s highest honors. Almost 15 years after his death, Northcott is now on the National Registry of Filipino Veterans of World War II, a group of men awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
“It was bittersweet,” said Northcott’s granddaughter Paige Sahab, who spearheaded a deep dive into her family history. “We wish he could have been here, but we were just so very happy to get it done for him.”
Sahab along with her mother, Bonnie Binneveld, and aunt, Petra Thompson, traveled to New Port Richey Saturday for a ceremony awarding Northcott and four other WWII veterans – two of whom are still living – with a replica of the gold medal.
“I found it very moving,” said Binneveld, a Leesburg resident. “So many people went to so much trouble to honor two living and three deceased veterans and their families.”
Northcott, who was born in the Philippines, was the oldest of five sons who fought in WWII. He and two of his brothers signed up in January 1941 and were captured in May 1942 when the Japanese invaded the island of Corregidor.
Northcott, who was a well known and respected Leesburgian, wrote about his service in a 30-page memoir edited by Sahab.
The stories, which included grisly details of their treatment at the hands of Japanese captors, were harrowing.
The eldest three brothers survived 40 months of captivity. And one of Northcott’s youngest brothers survived. The other was killed in action, and Northcott’s mother was a civilian casualty in the Battle for Manilla in 1945.
“I know a lot of us have similar stories, just our families being ripped apart,” Sahab said through tears at the ceremony Saturday. “I wish that he was here to receive this honor and make right for some of the things that happened to them. I really appreciate all the efforts of all of you to make sure their story is told and not forgotten.”
Sahab also brought her daughter, 2 ½-year-old Charlotte, to the ceremony. A photo taken there shows Sahab crouching to show the replica medal to Charlotte, who donned red, white and blue that day.
Saturday’s ceremony was about two years in the making. It started when Sahab took a DNA test. Results came back and they said she was Filipino, not Spanish, as her grandfather had told their family. She found out that Northcott was one of nine total children, as his mother remarried after his father died.
That kick started her curiosity. Eventually, Sahab was united with one of Northcott’s half-sisters.
Included in her research was a look into Northcott’s military records. And when she dug, she found out he was owed a slew of medals, including the Bronze Star.
In 2017, proper recognition came to the quarter of a million Filipino and Filipino-American WWII veterans in 2017. They were honored with a Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Sahab figured her grandfather probably qualified for that, too. So she applied about a year ago. She checked a few times, but didn’t hear anything back.
Then two weeks ago Sahab and Binneveld got an email.
“After thoughtful consideration, I am proud to report that we have determined that your father/grandfather, John F. Northcott, qualifies to be included in the National Registry,” the email said. “This is the highest expression of national appreciation… On behalf of a grateful nation, we are honored to recognize your father/grandfather, John F. Northcott, for his courageous service to the United States and the Philippines during World War II.”
“This was the icing on the cake,” Sahab said. “But I don’t know if he would have wanted all this fuss or not. He certainly was always honored by any recognition he received, but at the same time, he thought it was just what he did.”
She continued: “That’s how they all were. ‘We were called to serve and we did our job.’ He probably would tell you that any man who fought along next to him was deserving of the same.”
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