Ship & Shipmate Before Self: The Story of Telesforo Trinidad, MOH 1915

Photo from the Trinidad family

By Cecilia Gaerlan

In commemoration of the 106th Anniversary of Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad receiving the Medal of Honor, the USS Telesforo Trinidad Campaign (USSTTC) announces the launching of its initiative to name the first U.S. Navy Warship after an American national of Filipino descent who served in the U.S. Navy.  Trinidad holds the distinction of being the first and only Asian American (and first Filipino) in the U.S. Navy to receive a Medal of Honor, in accordance with General Order Number 142 signed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels on April 1, 1915. 

On 21 January 1915, while steaming in the Gulf of California as part of the naval patrol established to protect U.S. interests and citizens in México, the captain of USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) conducted a four-hour, full-speed and endurance trial to determine if the cruiser could still maintain its officially rated flank speed. At the end of the trials, an obstructed tube of one of the ship’s boilers gave way, creating an eventual chain reaction of other boilers, killing nine men and injuring several others.

USS San Diego (ACR-6) (Photo from Naval History & Heritage Command)

From the May 1915 (Vol. IX) issue of “Our Navy,” the Standard Magazine of the United States Navy: “At the time of the explosion, Trinidad was driven out of fireroom No. 2 by the force of the blast, 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 passing into Fireroom No. 4, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 Fireroom but without consideration for his own safety, although badly burned about the face, he passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 Fireroom. 

“Telesforo Trinidad, fireman second class, not only received a letter of commendation but also the much-prized Medal of Honor and a gratuity of one hundred dollars.”

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

Telesforo dela Cruz Trinidad came from humble beginnings and was born on November 25, 1890, in New Washington, Aklan Province, Panay, Philippines.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy as part of the Insular Force in the Philippines in 1910 and served during WWI and WWII until his retirement in 1945.  He lived in Imus, Cavite, Philippines until his passing on May 8, 1968, at the age of 77. 

The Philippines has been one of the United States’ strongest allies in the Pacific and both countries have maintained uninterrupted economic, cultural and military ties.  After the Spanish-American war in 1898, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, were ceded to the United States for $20M in accordance with the Treaty of Paris.  In 1901, President McKinley signed an executive order allowing the recruitment of 500 Filipinos in the Navy and 6,000 Filipinos in the Army to serve as part of the Insular Force of the War Department.  

During World War I, 6,000 Filipinos enlisted in the U.S. Navy and thousands more were recruited through the interwar years.  During WWII, thousands of Filipinos served under the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East and the U.S. 16th Naval District. 

President Truman during the Potsdam Conference in Germany with Filipino Stewards (Photo from the Harry S. Truman Library)

After the Philippines obtained its independence from the United States in 1946, more than 35,000 Filipinos were recruited into the U.S. Navy from 1952 to 1992 under a provision of the Republic of the Philippines-United States Military Bases Agreement. In addition, thousands of Americans of Filipino descent enlisted during this same 40-year period and continue to do so until today.  There is no ship in the U.S. Navy with a name that recognizes this strong alliance forged in war and peace.

Capt. Ron Ravelo, Former Commander of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN72) (Photo from Manilalivewire.com)

If approved, Fireman Second Class Trinidad will be the first enlisted Sailor and Medal of Honor recipient, and the first American of Filipino descent, to have a combat ship named after him.  This distinguished honor will recognize the commitment, distinction, and valor not only of Trinidad but of the thousands of Filipinos who have served faithfully and loyally for the past 120 years.

USSTTC is a U.S. registered non-profit (501c3) and a national grassroots advocacy group comprised of serving and retired members of the US Armed Forces, community leaders, academics, corporate executives, civic leaders and veterans’ families.

For more information, please visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/USSTTC or our website at https://www.ussttc.org/ or contact Cecilia Gaerlan at cecilia@bataanlegacy.org or (510) 520-8540.