SAN FRANCISCO, Calif .– Asian Americans, veterans and civilians in the United States and the Philippines campaign to name a Navy warship for a Filipino sailor who bravely rescued two crew members when their ship caught fire over a century ago, earning it a prestigious and rare Medal of Honor.
Supporters say naming a ship for Telesforo Trinidad would honor not only the only Asian American in the US Navy who received the country’s highest honor for bravery, but also the tens of thousands of Filipinos and Americans. of Filipino origin who have served in the US Navy since 1901, when the Philippines was a territory of the United States.
“I don’t think this is a long shot at all; it may be a long time, but we hope it is not, “said retired captain Ron Ravelo, campaign chair.” We are going to make Navy ships. for the foreseeable future, and there is no reason these cannot bear the Telesforo Trinidad name.
Trinidad, who died in 1968 at the age of 77, was so eager to join the US Navy that he boarded a lifeboat from his home island of Panay to the Main Island to enlist, said his grandson Rene Trinidad. In 1915, while patrolling the USS San Diego, he risked his life and suffered burns to save two teammates when boilers exploded, killing nine people. He received the medal that year, at a time when the honor could be bestowed for non-combatant valor.
René Trinidad, a real estate agent from Southern California, remembers that his grandfather was a man of few words.
“He let his actions speak for himself,” he said, “and I guess that’s why he did what he did.”
The campaign enjoys grassroots enthusiasm and the support of members of the Democratic Congress who sent a letter last month to Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker.
Traditionally, different types of ships have different naming conventions, but there are exceptions, said Samuel J. Cox, retired Rear Admiral and director of Naval History and Heritage Command, who suggests names and has previously submitted Trinidad. for exam. The Secretary of the Navy has the final authority and discretion to name and rename ships, he said.
Some commemorate American states, cities, Navy heroes or distinguished Americans. The number of Navy ships receiving names varies widely from year to year, but averages around eight, of which three or four are named after people, Cox said.
“There are just too many heroes for the number of ships to name,” he said.
Norman Polmar, author and naval analyst, agrees.
“And I hate to say that, I feel a little bit of pain when I say this: more and more it becomes political – which party you are in and who is in the White House, and sometimes the White House gets involved,” Polmar said.
Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus sparked controversy after appointing warships for former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords; the late gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk of San Francisco; and the late farm worker activist Cesar Chavez. Gifford’s honor shattered more modern traditions that the person must be dead or old.
Critics also said there were plenty of Heroic Service members to choose from. Mabus said his choices were also heroism.
In January 2020, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly named a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in honor of Doris “Dorie” Miller, an African-American sailor who received the Navy Cross for his actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The name didn’t suit critics who say Miller deserves to have a ship named after him, but not an elite aircraft carrier named after the presidents. There is also an ongoing debate about the ships appointed for the Civil War Confederacy.
Cecilia Gaerlan, a member of the Trinidad Campaign Board of Directors, said they would like a Navy surface fighter, such as a destroyer or frigate, named after the Firefighter Second Class. The appointment would be a symbol of the Navy’s commitment to “diversity, equality and inclusion in this time of national racial tensions and unwarranted violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” a Democratic U.S. Representative Sara Jacobs of California said in a May letter to Harker signed by 10 others.
There are other Navy ships named after Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the destroyer USS Daniel Inouye. The former US senator was awarded the Medal of Honor in the famous 442nd Infantry Regiment, made up of Americans of Japanese descent whose families were incarcerated in camps during World War II.
There was a US Navy ship named after a Filipino, but Gaerlan says the USS Rizal, a destroyer in service from 1919 to 1931, was donated by the Philippine legislature and honors José Rizal , a national hero who never served in the military.
More than two dozen Americans in Asia and the Pacific have received the Medal of Honor since its inception during the Civil War, mostly in the U.S. military, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. There are approximately 3,500 recipients.
Telesforo Trinidad, born in 1890, enlisted in 1910 in the Island Force established by then President William McKinley and served in both World Wars. Over 250,000 Filipino soldiers served in World War II and thousands died in Bataan’s brutal 1942 death march in the Philippines.
René Trinidad, 65, said it went against his cultural upbringing to draw attention to his grandfather’s heroism, but his late father wanted recognition from his father, who overcame the hardships, earned a medal and worked hard to support her family. Two sons followed him into the US Navy.
“The bottom line is that Filipinos be recognized for their contribution to the United States, and that every Filipino should be proud of that as well,” he said.