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Born on August 19, 1920 in the highlands of Lubuagan in the province of Kalinga, Magdalena was brought up in a religious family. Her father was a famed Filipino missionary to the Cordilleras. Before the war broke out in 1941, Magdalena was a 22-year-old teacher studying to be a nun in her hometown. This was soon disrupted when the Japanese Imperial Army landed in Northern Luzon and started their invasion.

Since she was one of those who refused to surrender after the Fall of Bataan, she was imprisoned for five months together with the missionaries’ wives and other officers at Camp Holmes. During this time, she taught herself how to speak Niponggo, the Japanese language. Little did she know how crucial this “learning” was to prove in succeeding months.

She decided to serve as a special agent after encountering Colonel Russel Volckman of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines-North Luzon (USAFIP-NL). With her church connections and her Niponggo-speaking skills, she was able to carry “important intelligence data, vital radio parts, and medical supplies” through Japanese-held areas.

A display on Leones at the Filipino Veterans Education Center in San Francisco. Photo by Emil Guillermo.

Magdalena, who served from February 27 to September 26 of 1944, was also recognized for being able to remember the names of enemy ships, its loads, and the names of their captains docked at San Fernando, La Union. These skills proved to be immensely helpful in the fight and eventual defeat of the enemy force.

Because of her bravery and immense contributions Magdalena became the only Asian woman 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 Army citation awarded the Silver Star to Leones Oct. 22, 1945, reads:

“For gallantry in action at Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 27 February to 26 September 1944. During the period cited, Corporal Leones repeatedly risked her life to carry important intelligence data, vital radio parts and medical supplies through heavily garrisoned enemy-held territory.”

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Photo courtesy of Alfredo Pascual

“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. Through her intrepidity and skill as a special agent, Corporal Leones contributed materially to the early liberation of the Philippines.”




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Magdalena Leones. Accessed on April 27, 2020 from https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/88163