Skip to main content »

Magdalena Leones: Only Asian Female and Filipina to Receive the Silver Star Medal

 |  3 min read

Magdalena Leones, Igorota from Lubuagan, Kalinga, the only Asian female and Filipina to receive the Silver Star Medal from the US for her WW2 heroism.

Magdalena Leones, an Igorota from Lubuagan, Kalinga, the Only Asian Female and Filipina to Receive the Silver Star Medal.
Magdalena Leones, an Igorota from Lubuagan, Kalinga, the Only Asian Female and Filipina to Receive the Silver Star Medal.

Born on August 19, 1920, in Lubuagan, Kalinga, Magdalena Leones had no clue that she will later become a secret agent for the United States Army Forces in the Philippines. She was 22 years old and working as a teacher and preparing to become a nun before the outbreak of World War II.

A picture of Leones, far right, and her family in the Philippines in the 1960s | Courtesy of the Leones family
A picture of Leones, far right, and her family in the Philippines in the 1960s | Courtesy of the Leones family

On May 6, 1942, she was arrested and imprisoned with her fellow missionaries in Japanese concentration camps. There, she witnessed how completely innocent individuals were dealt with and how they lived in constant fear. Seven months later, she was released, and during that time she learned how to speak the Japanese language, Nippongo.

Using her free will, she joined the guerrillas and became an intelligence officer for the United States Army Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NL).

Operating most of herself, Corporal Leones penetrated behind enemy lines, exchanging information with resistance leaders, bringing medical supplies and, above all, collecting information on dispositions and enemy installation.

She also documented the names of enemy ships anchored in La Union, Philippines, along with their contents as well as the names of their captains.

Leones was arrested 3 times by Japanese forces but she always escaped and continued her activities. Leones utilized her vital skills to protect the lives of Filipinos by being a translator between the Filipino and Japanese forces. She once saved a group of Filipino evacuees by explaining to the Japanese military that they had just attended a wedding.

Leones continued to work as a spy for the Americans, obtaining radio parts in the Philippines that allowed continued communications with General Douglas MacArthur which led to the landings in Leyte and the eventual recapture of the Philippines in October 1944. Her heroic actions saved millions of lives through the intel she achieved.

After the war, on October 22, 1945, Lt. General O.W. Griswold of the U.S. Army awarded Corporal Magdalena Leones the Silver Star medal - the third highest American military decoration awarded for "gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States."

Her Silver Star citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Corporal Magdalena Leones, United States Army, for gallantry in action as Special Agent, U.S. Army Force in the Philippines, North Luzon, in action at Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 27 February 1944 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. 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 Philippine Islands.

She was the only Asian woman awarded the Silver Star during World War ll.

She later maintained a low profile after the war and moved to California in 1969 where he worked as a clerk before dying peacefully in June 2016 in California at the age of 95.

Leones was honored by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Leones' certificate of honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors | Courtesy of the Leones family
Leones' certificate of honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors | Courtesy of the Leones family

"We are diminished by the passing of Corporal Magdalena Leones, Silver Star Filipina World War II veteran - the only Asian to receive this honor," Supervisor Jane Kim told NBC News. "Corporal Leones has paved the way for many women that are breaking barriers in every arena. I look forward to her story and the story of the 250,000 Filipino World War II veterans being told for all to remember."

The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) approved her burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and also asserted that Leone's life is a "testament that women are also capable of defending our motherland."


Born Igorot, Die Igorot


MagdalenaLeones SilverStarMedal Asian Filipina Veteran WorldWar2 Lubuagan Kalinga hero

Sharing is caring, kailian!

We do hope you find something great in this story. If you find this helpful, please do share it with the people you care about.


Igorotage is a social networking site — all contents are user-generated. The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Igorotage.

Except as otherwise noted, the content of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Join the discussion

Sign in to share your thoughts. No account yet?

What to learn next?

You might also like to read these related articles.

Igorot from Kalinga is Army's Best Battalion Commander

LTC REMIGIO A DULATRE GSC (INF) PA, from Rizal, Kalinga is the Best Battalion Commander for Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM).

Brando in People

Aug 1 · 2 min read

Noreen Victoria Mangawit: Kalinga's first-ever representative for Miss Universe Philippines

Noreen Victoria Mangawit, Kalinga's first representative for Miss Universe PH aims to show not only the beauty of the people but also the culture.

Bornoc in People

Feb 23 · 2 min read

Kalinga Farmer's Son Ranks 6th in PMA Masidlawin Class

A farmer's son from Kalinga ranks 6th in the Philippine Military Academy "Masidlawin" Class 2020. Two other Cordillerans also ranked 4th and 5th.

Lakay in People

Jun 3 · 3 min read

BGEN Noel T. Baluyan PA: Igorot from Kalinga promoted to Army Brigadier General

BGEN Noel T. Baluyan PA, an Igorot from Pinukpuk, Kalinga, has been promoted to Brigadier General of the Philippine Army.

Darryl in People

Jul 30 · 3 min read

2LT LEONARDO G VISAYA, JR: Kalinga Math Teacher Tops Elite Military Pilot School

2LT LEONARDO G VISAYA, JR., a Math teacher from Pinukpuk, Kalinga tops the Military Pilot Training "Wings of Resilience" Class of 2020.

Ottis in People

Nov 9 · 8 min read

Kalinga Accountant Tops PNP-SAF MAG-ALAB Class

Certified Public Accountant - Police Trainee from Kalinga tops PSBRC RTC3 Class 2020-02 MAG-ALAB Special Action Force.

Hailie in People

Sep 24 · 3 min read

JINSP Marrion Gail Bernadette Balweg Dongan: Kalinga Woman is New Warden of BJMP Butuan City Jail

JINSP Marrion Gail Bernadette Balweg Dongan, a Kalinga woman from Pasil, Kalinga is the newly appointed Warden of BJMP Butuan City Jail - Female dorm.

Axel in People

Nov 5 · 1 min read

FCSUPT Jaime Dollente Ramirez: Youngest Cordilleran General

FCSUPT Jaime Dollente Ramirez from Tabuk City, Kalinga is the youngest Cordilleran General.

Jude in People

Oct 9 · 1 min read

Pinoy Pride: 30 Cordilleran Medalists at SEA Games 2019

Here are 30 Cordilleran athletes who made significant contributions for Team Philippines in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

Ediseo in People

Dec 9, 2019 · 15 min read

Igorota is one of the 100 Most Influential Filipino Women in the World

Igorota from Sagada, Mountain Province was recognized as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World by the Filipina Women's Network.

Xypress in People

Jan 2 · 2 min read