UNITED States Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced Thursday, May 19 that a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer will be named USS Telesforo Trinidad (DDG 139), honoring the bravery and heroism of Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo De La Cruz Trinidad, the only Filipino in the U.S. Navy to be awarded the Medal of Honor. “Since being sworn in as secretary, I have wanted to honor his heroic actions by naming a ship after him,” said Del Toro. “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”
The Navy secretary shared that the first time he learned about Petty Officer Trinidad’s story was as a midshipman at the Naval Academy.
Trinidad was born Nov. 25, 1890 in Aklan. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the United States took possession of the archipelago in the wake of the Spanish-American War.
An initiative led by the USS Telesforo Trinidad Campaign (USTTC) has been working to make this dream of memorializing Trinidad’s selfless dedication to the Navy and the country a reality. The group is composed of serving and retired U.S. Armed Forces, community and civic leaders, academics, corporate executives, and veterans’ families. The USTTC was founded in 2020 by Col. Nonie C. Cabana, USAF-Ret, who serves as its Executive Director, and chaired by Captain Ronald Ravelo, USN (Ret), the first Filipino American to command a nuclearpowered aircraft carrier. USTTC garnered massive support across the country led by veterans’ and civic organizations, local, state, and national legislators, and grassroots support from many individuals.
“Filipinos and Filipino Americans have waited over 107 years to see this watershed moment happen. We realize that building grassroots and ground swelling support is the key to sustain momentum in convincing Honorable Secretary Del Toro to make this seminal decision as part of our Nation’s history,” Cabana said.
Ravelo echoed Cabana’s sentiments and added, “Naming a ship after Trinidad sends a strong message that America embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion. The old and new generations of Americans of Filipino descent who served and continue to serve our military would keep their heads raised high knowing their contributions are embodied through the USS Telesforo Trinidad.”
Multiple organizations such as the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and the Philippine Nurses Association of America sent letters to President Joe Biden requesting support for the campaign.
Some community leaders and family members including Telesforo’s grandchildren have expressed their elation about this news.
“Our family is extremely grateful to everyone that worked so hard to make this happen! My dad couldn’t believe the news and was so extremely excited that what he wanted for so long is finally coming to light,” shared Michelle Trinidad Villarroel on social media.
“The naming of the USS Telesforo Trinidad validates 121 years of loyal and faithful service by generations of Filipino American families in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Armed Forces and the seminal role that Filipino Americans hold in U.S. history,” Cecilia Gaerlan, executive director of Bataan Legacy Historical Society told the Asian Journal. “This announcement will inspire current and future generations to emulate the heroic deeds of Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad not only during times of war but every day that they serve.”
Bravery & heroism
On Jan. 21, 1915, Trinidad was serving aboard USS San Diego when the captain decided to conduct a four-hour full-speed and endurance trial to determine if the ship could still maintain its officially rated flank speed.
Following the trial, an obstructed tube in one of the ship’s boilers gave way, creating a chain reaction. Trinidad re-entered the closed space to the No. 2 boiler to save Fireman 2nd Class R. W. Daly.
As he was carrying Daly through the No. 4 fireroom, an explosion of the No. 3 boiler hit Trinidad, which burned him in the face. After seeing Daly to safety and despite his injuries, Trinidad then assisted in rescuing another injured shipmate from the No. 3 fireroom.
For his bravery, the U.S. Navy awarded him the Medal of Honor and a $100 gratuity.
Trinidad died in 1968 at the age of 77 in Imus, Cavite. He was among the more than 250,000 Filipino soldiers who served in World War II, including thousands who died during the brutal 1942 Bataan Death March in the Philippines.
“I am pleased to honor Trinidad’s life and legacy today — especially during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” said Del Toro. “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.”
According to the Navy announcement, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the backbone of the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet providing protection to America around the globe. These highly capable, multi-mission ships conduct a variety of operations, from peacetime presence to national security, providing a wide range of warfighting capabilities in multi-threat air, surface, and subsurface domains. These elements of sea power enable the Navy to defend American prosperity and prevent future conflict abroad. Tens of thousands of Filipinos and Americans of Filipino descent have served in the U.S. Navy since 1901 when the Philippines was a United States territory.