MORE than a century after Telesforo Trinidad heroically rescued a couple of his fellow crew members in a boiler room fire aboard USS San Diego and earned him a U.S. Navy medal of honor, advocates are urging the Navy secretary to name a Navy warship in his honor.
Over the weekend, Filipino and Asian Pacific Islander (API) community leaders in San Diego gathered to commemorate U.S. Navy Fireman Trinidad and highlight his bravery and heroism.
“There are over 200,000 Filipinos that reside in San Diego County. Many arrived in San Diego by way of the U.S. Navy. We, in the Filipino, Asian Pacific Islander (API) community, are excited to be a part of an effort that follows U.S. Navy tradition of naming a ship after a Medal of Honor recipient,” said JoAnn Fields, government and public relations director of Asian Pacific Islander Initiative.
The initiative led by the USS Telesforo Trinidad Campaign (USTTC) hopes that the naming of a ship after Trinidad will memorialize his selfless dedication to the Navy and the country. The group is composed of serving and retired U.S. Armed Forces, community and civic leaders, academics, corporate executives, and veterans’ families.
Trinidad remains to be the first and only American national of Filipino descent in the U.S. Navy awarded the Medal of Honor for saving two of his crew members following a series of boiler room explosions onboard the USS San Diego while the ship was underway in the Gulf of California on January 21, 1915.
A virtual Kapihan with the Filipino American Press Club of New York featured USTTC leaders, among them retired U.S. Air Force Col. Nonie Cabana and retired Captain Ronald L. Ravelo, the only Fil-Am who held command of a U.S. Navy nuclear aircraft carrier.
Col. Cabana said that for the campaign to be successful, there should be a total grassroots effort from the Fil-Am community organizations and obtain support from veterans’ advocacy groups.
He also advised community members to support the initiative and send letters to their respective elected officials and representatives.
Capt. Ravelo cited Sen. Mazie Hirono for her letter to the Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker.
In the said letter, Hirono requested the Navy to name a warship in honor of Trinidad’s contributions, saying it “would recognize not only his valor but the tens of thousands of Filipinos who have served our great nation for the past 120 years.”
“Filipinos have a long history of service with the U.S. Navy, going back to 1901. Naming a U.S. Navy warship after Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad would be a first for Filipino Americans and would join the only other vessel named after an Asian American Pacific Islander sailor, Rear Admiral Gordon Pai’ea Chung Hoon,” Hirono wrote.
“It’s a long way to go. We have received support from some heavy hitters but we need more,” Ravelo said. “Trinidad’s legacy has waited over 105 years, this is a long time coming. It’s about time.”
Cecilia Gaerlan shared a brief history of Filipinos in the U.S. Navy and cited that only three Filipinos have received the Medal of Honor: Jose Nisperos in 1905, Trinidad in 1915, and Jose Calugas in 1942.
Citing information from the Naval History and Heritage Command, Gaerlan said that Trinidad was 24 years old when he displayed heroism by rescuing a couple of his fellow crew members in the boiler room explosions aboard the USS San Diego.
Rene Trinidad, Telesforo’s grandson, joined the Kapihan from his home in Granada Hills, California.
“We’re overwhelmed at the possibility of that happening,” he remarked. “It looks like it’s going to be a long process, but even just the possibility of being given that honor, it boggles my mind.”
Rene said this meant so much to his father, who passed away in December 2020. His father was Telesforo’s fourth child, and out of 10, two joined the Navy.
Because of this, he said that the U.S. Navy played a big role in their family’s lives.
“Lolo Porong really wanted to join the navy that he stowed on a passenger ship from Aklan to Luzon to get to Sangley Point. That’s how much he wanted to join. He had humble means and didn’t have the resources to pay for the passage,” Rene shared.
Community members at the San Diego event were able to sign an enlarged letter to the Secretary of the Navy in support of the campaign.
Congressional and local leaders in San Diego have sent letters of support to the Secretary of the Navy. Among those who sent their letters were San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilmember Chris Cate, who are both of Filipino descent.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, also of Filipino descent, has also backed this project. n