On May 19, the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Carlos Del Toro announced that they would be naming a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer after Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo De La Cruz Trinidad, the only Filipino in US Navy history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. By doing so, the US Navy honors the courage and bravery of Telesforo Trinidad and 11,000+ Filipinos currently serving in the US Navy.

Del Toro said in a statement that he first learned about Trinidad’s story when he was a midshipman at the Naval Academy and that he wanted to honor the Filipino ever since he was sworn in as secretary.

“This ship and her future crew will be a critical piece in strengthening our maritime superiority while also emphasizing the rich culture and history of our naval heritage,” he said through a SECNAV statement.

The timing of the honor could not be more perfect. Del Toro announced this development During Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This celebration honors the contribution of Asians and Pacific Islanders to American history and culture as the US has been widely known to be a melting pot of people of different ethnicities and nationalities, something that has made the US the country it is today.

More so, the first documented Asians to arrive in the Americas were the Filipinos in 1587, when they arrived at Morro Bay aboard the Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza. These Filipinos sailed to the US from the Philippines as they were part of the Manila Galleon Trade, a trade agreement between Acapulco, Mexico, and the Philippines. Both countries had been Spanish colonies during that time. The story of the Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza is quite complicated, as the ship actually came from Portuguese Macau, where its galleons were seized by Portuguese authorities.

“I am pleased to honor Trinidad’s life and legacy today – especially during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” Del Toro said.

“Having a ship named after such a significant figure highlights our diverse culture and that our people will always be our strategic advantage against any adversary. I hope the naming of this ship is a beacon for not only Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders but for all our Sailors, Marines, and civilians who serve across the Department of the Navy. The service and sacrifice of these men and women have made our military and our nation stronger and better.”

Telesforo Trinidad's Medal of Honor along with other awards (Telesforo Trinidad). Source: https://www.facebook.com/TelesforoTrinidad/photos/ms.c.eJw1y8ENwEAIA8GOIsDGB~;03FoVwz9FqCQsKBiXAejh2U5eO~_bU~_q3MdMa5eo~;7f1pTBu~;v21PSItTA~;6wVsghnE.bps.a.430246030320042/430246303653348
Telesforo Trinidad’s Medal of Honor, along with other awards (Telesforo Trinidad/Facebook)

The decision was widely lauded by the Filipino-American community, most of which have worked in some form or capacity with the various branches of the US military. But many of you would know that the US Navy is really where most Filipinos would serve under. Filipinos in the Philippines also rejoiced at the decision as the country is known to be deeply tied to American culture as Manila was once considered US territory after being acquired from the Spanish following the Spanish American War in 1898.

The future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer will thus be named, USS Telesforo Trinidad (DDG 139), and will be part of the US Navy’s surface fleet that has been the backbone of the Navy for many years.

Trinidad and His Story of Heroism

Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo De La Cruz Trinidad was born on November 25, 1890, a full-blooded Filipino from the province of Aklan, Panay, Philippines.

Trinidad is part of a long old tradition of Filipinos going into service with the US Navy. Many would say that Trinidad would be one of the pioneers of Filipinos in US military service, enlisting as part of the Insular Force in 1910 in the wake of the Spanish-American War. He would serve in World War I and World War II.

During the First World War, Trinidad was aboard the USS San Diego Armored Cruiser No. 6 on January 21, 1915, the captain of the vessel wanted to test the cruiser with a four-hour endurance trial while the ship was at full speed. This was done to determine whether the vessel could maintain flank speed until Boiler 2 exploded. This created a chain reaction, with the other boilers also exploding.

 USS San Diego on 28 January 1915 (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uss_california_ca.jpg
USS San Diego on January 28, 1915 (US Navy, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Trinidad, after being driven out of the fireroom by the explosion of the No. 2 Boiler, realized that his shipmate, Fireman Second Class R.W. Daly was still inside. He went back to rescue Daly with Ensign R.W. Cary Jr. holding the door open. Trinidad would then carry Daly out of the smoke-filled room, but then the explosion of No. 3 Boiler occurred and Trinidad was badly burned by scalding steam. Despite his injuries, he carried Daly out and went back inside the burning compartment to rescue another crewmen. The accident would kill 9 men with several others injured.

Because of his bravery, he would be awarded the Medal of Honor, a letter of commendation, and a gratuity of $100. He would go on to live a long life, going back to the Philippines in the province of Cavite, dying at the age of 77 on May 8, 1968.

Filipinos Serving Under the US Navy

As you may know, the Philippines has a certain tradition of enlisting in the US Navy. In 1901 as former President McKinley signed an executive order allowing 500 Filipinos to serve with Americans. During this time, Filipinos were mostly assigned to steward duties. This was the start of Filipinos serving under the US flag.

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In 1946, the US ended the protectorate status of the Philippines on July 4 after the Philippines and the US forces fought the Japanese in World War II. This date is now celebrated in Manila as Philippine-American Friendship Day, a national holiday commemorating the shared history and proud brotherhood of Filipinos and Americans.

Despite this, in 1947, the Military Bases Agreement between the US and the Philippines was signed, which gave the US a 99-year lease on a number of Philippine military and naval bases – some of these are the famed Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Complex. What people mostly overlook is that the 1947 agreement also enabled the US to negotiate a 1952 agreement that enabled the US to recruit 1,000 Filipinos every year to the US Navy. This was later increased to 2,000 Filipinos every year. The Nationality Act of 1940 would enable Filipinos (and other nationalities) US citizenship if they served in the US Armed Forces honorably for three years or more.

Around 35,000 Filipinos would go on to be recruited into the US Navy from 1952 to 1992. Many would settle in the United States, with their children also serving in the various branches of the US Armed Forces, a very concrete aspect of the strong alliance forced by the US and the Philippines.