A Salute to Telesforo Trinidad

One of the few enduring U.S. Naval ship naming conventions is to honor heroic Sailors and officers (as well as the occasional Marine) by bestowing their names on destroyers. With the Burke-class proving to be the unintended backbone to the Navy and the only serious surface combatant standing for a while once they get rid of the Ticos, gratefully they are still being named for such heroes.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t heard, SECNAV is naming the future DDG-139 for Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad, who received the Medal of Honor for actions taken on board the cruiser USS San Diego on 21 January 1915.

Of note, he is the only Filipino in the U.S. Navy to receive the MoH.

Vignette gives details on why Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad received the Medal of Honor for actions taken on board the USS SAN DIEGO on 21 January 1915. Published in the Navy Times. By artist Mario DeMarco. NH 86980

Trinidad, born November 25, 1890, in Aklan Province, Panay, back when the Philippines were part of the Spanish Empire, enlisted at age 19 in the U.S. Navy as part of the Insular Force in the Philippines in 1910 and served during both the Great War and WWII until his retirement in 1945.

His MoH Citation, which he received alongside “a gratuity of one hundred dollars”:

For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession at the time of the boiler explosion on board the USS San Diego, 21 January 1915. Trinidad was driven out of fireroom No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up R.E. Daly, fireman, second class, whom he saw to be injured, and proceeded to bring him out. While coming into No. 4 fireroom, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fireroom, but without consideration for his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fireroom. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fireroom.

Filipinos were long directly and actively recruited into the Navy. Going back to 1901 when President McKinley signed an executive order allowing the recruitment of 500 Filipinos a year into the Navy, they were a fixture in the fleet. Much like Trinidad, many served in the World Wars.

Filipino Sailors (Photo from the Filipino American National Heritage Society)

As part of the Military Bases Agreement between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines signed in 1947, 1,000 Filipinos were allowed to join the Navy each year, typically signing up at Subic Bay Naval Station. In 1952, this was expanded to 2,000. Between that year and 1992, when Subic was closed and the U.S. Navy’s Philippines Enlistment Program (PEP) was terminated, more than 35,000 Filipinos swore an oath and put on cracker jacks.

A study of such volunteers in the 1990s found that:

PEP recruits, when compared as a group with the sample of other Navy recruits, have higher educational attainment prior to enlistment, higher AFQT mean scores; higher short-term and long-term continuation rates; more rapid promotion rates; and relatively fewer separations for adverse reasons.

No longer stokers and stewards, increasingly, the face of Navy Medicine became more Filipino. According to 2021 data, 11,208 Navy active duty service members identify as Filipino including 1,480 physicians, dentists, nurses, MSC officers, and hospital corpsmen.

In short, it wouldn’t be so bad to have more Telesforo Trinidads around, and, with all things considered, a modern PEP program could be a great idea.

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