A future Arleigh Burke-class navy destroyer to be named USS Telesforo Trinidad

by Ricky Rillera

Arleigh Burke Guided-Missile Destroyer Photo USNI | Telesforo Trinidad (Inset) Photo USSTTC

NEW YORK – During Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, on May 19, the USS Telesforo Trinidad Campaign (USSTTC) accomplished its mission. As a result of garnering grassroots support at the national and local levels to name a Navy warship for a Filipino sailor, the Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, announced a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer would be named USS Telesforo Trinidad (DDG-139).

In honoring the bravery and heroism of Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo de la Cruz Trinidad, the first and only Asian American and Filipino in the U.S. Navy to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Del Toro said, “[h]aving 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.”

Added Del Toro: “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.”

The news cheered Asian Americans, veterans, and civilians in the U.S. and the Philippines who had urged the naming. They said a named ship would also honor the tens of thousands of Filipinos and Americans of Filipino descent who had served in the U.S. Navy since 1901, when the Philippines was a United States territory.

In a statement, Col. Nonie C. Cabana, USAF-Ret, founder and executive director of USSTTC, said: “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.”

“Naming a ship after Trinidad sends a strong message that America embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Capt. Ronald Ravelo, USN (Ret), the first Filipino American to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. “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.” Ravelo is the chairman of USSTTC.

In Jersey City, Nestor Enriquez, a retired U.S. Navy personnel who supported the Trinidad campaign, was surprised at the news. “Honestly, I did not expect the USS Trinidad to happen this soon,” he said. “I have been waiting for it as several friends worked to honor Trinidad.” Cecilia Gaerlan, Enriquez’s friend, is a board member of the USSTTC and is also an advocate for Filipino American veterans. She is the founder and executive director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society. The wife of Trinidad, Gaerlan, and Enriquez are from Cavite.

“Naming a ship is the first step,” Gaerlan told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “It would probably take from seven to eight years before a ship is commissioned. What’s important is that a budget is set aside for the ship.”

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) welcomed the news. “The naming of a United States Navy combatant ship after Trinidad will resonate strongly not only to several generations of Filipino Americans who have served in the U.S. Navy since 1901,” Brendan Flores, NaFFAA president and the chair, said, “but also to more than four million Filipino Americans who are looking for validation of the seminal contributions of Filipinos to U.S. history. It will recognize as well the shared history and values of two allies, forged in war and peace.”

“This shall serve as a catalyst for all Filipinos to be proud of their contributions to serving in the United States military. This is also a great example of what is possible when we come together as a community, working with our elected officials and allies as a united voice to advocate for what we deserve,” said Pope, Trinidad’s grandson. He was quoted in the NaFFAA statement.

Trinidad’s life and legacy

Telesforo Trinidad served in the USS San Diego, a flagship of the Pacific Fleet. On January 21, 1915, he bravely risked his life and rescued two crew members when the ship’s boilers exploded. Despite being driven out of the fireroom by the explosion and his face burned by the blast, he returned to pick up his shipmates trapped in the fireroom. The boiler explosion killed nine and injured several others. For his bravery, the U.S. Navy awarded him the Medal of Honor.

On November 15, 1890, he was born in New Washington, Aklan. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy as part of the Insular Force in the Philippines in 1910 and served in both world wars until his retirement in 1945. He was among the more than 250,000 Filipino and American soldiers who served in World War II, including thousands who died during the Bataan Death March. He lived in Imus, Cavite, until his passing on May 8, 1968, at age 77.

The USSTTC launched the Trinidad initiative to name the first U.S. Navy Warship after an American national of Filipino descent who served in the U.S. Navy during the 106th Anniversary of Trinidad’s receiving the Medal of Honor. On January 24, 2021, it submitted a petition letter to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The campaign gathered momentum, and grassroots support came from several national, regional, and local organizations and individuals, including 90 members of Congress and key members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee.

The USSTTC is composed of serving and retired U.S. Armed Forces, community and civic leaders, academics, corporate executives, and veterans’ families.

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