The Filipino in the US Navy

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Apr 23 2021 11:51 PM

(Last in the series of “US Navy: Anchor of US-Philippines Relations")

Inevitably the success of the USS Telesforo Trinidad Campaign (USSTTC) to name a US Navy warship will transcend simply recognizing and celebrating the heroism of a Filipino sailor in the service of America 106 years ago.

The hoped for reality is that a USS Telesforo Trinidad, smartly cruising through international waters in the service of world peace, shall have become the collective symbol of the Filipino presence in the US Navy. 

In this era of racist manifestations, when American society is assailed by pockets of forgetfulness, abetted by a seemingly latent supremacist stab at forsaking her immigrant foundations, such an assertive symbolism is needed to achieve relevance and resonance. The USS Telesforo Trinidad shall personify grateful Filipino pride in and for America. USS Telesforo Trinidad will not rewrite America’s military history, but will be a reminding addendum that Filipinos were and are “crucial partners in the exercise of US power,” almost from the very afternoon Dewey sailors disembarked in Cavite’s navy yard on May 1, 1898.

At this stage, the matter of what type of warship will bear Fireman 2nd Class Trinidad’s name is unknown. It could be a Destroyer or a Cruiser. There are several of each type in the drawing boards, as well as several that may be renamed, replacing long uncorrected aberrations. (Let us call that ‘hangover’ from Civil War’s aftermath.) I guess that means that the object of the ‘courtship’ is the Secretary of the Navy.

“Names for Navy ships traditionally have been chosen and announced by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President and in accordance with rules prescribed by Congress. Rules for giving certain types of names to certain types of Navy ships have evolved over time. There have been exceptions to the Navy’s ship-naming rules, particularly for the purpose of naming a ship for a person when the rule for that type of ship would have called for it to be named for something else.” (excerpt from a Congressional Research Service report. 04-14-21.) 

The challenge facing the USSTTC committee is being met. Informal discussions among senior peers, albeit retired, is now an on-going effort, while President Biden is yet to appoint a permanent Secretary of the Navy. Networking, advance notices and expressions of support are now afloat, pun intended! Team Trinidad, “all hands on deck!” Please expect progress to be reported, “steady as she goes!”

Folks, let me invite you to a bit of fancy. Just imagine USS Telesforo Trinidad on her maiden voyage cruising into Manila Bay, then slipping into berth at Sangley Point! With a sidetrip/port call on New Washington, Aklan, perhaps! More than just a sentimental journey! What joyful celeb awaits, a once-in-a-lifetime fiesta! What foreign policy optics!

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And in my reverie, I am transported to an improvised quay at bayfront by the Luneta, close to the ravaged Manila Hotel. 1945. I was 10 years old. Not exactly a street waif but a gadabout from Sampaloc, joining a curious throng scampering onto a ‘landing barge’ (that’s what they called a strange looking boat). It took us further out to a warship. It must have been a battleship or a destroyer. In retrospect, it must have been a US Navy civil relations gesture, hosting a look-n’see-enjoy event and making friends with a liberated population.

Soon after Manila’s 1945 Liberation, about the first signs of a return to normalcy, cinema theaters began to re-open with American films produced during the war years. I distinctly remember the very first movie shown at ‘Cine Ideal’ in Rizal Avenue. It was a Navy movie in technicolor and the very first movie I ventured to see, alone! “The Fighting Lady” was a documentary, as I recall, about an aircraft carrier. 

Also, there was another Navy movie. It was a biographical story about five brothers from the Midwest, all enlisting in the US Navy, and serving in the same ship during WW II. “The Fighting Sullivans” all perished in a Japanese torpedo attack in Pacific waters. 

A three-generational US Navy participation may now be rather common not only among Fil-Ams (Adm. Victorino G. Mercado’s dad and son, for instance) but perhaps even among American families. I have a hunch, however, that a multi-generational span that begins with a cook/steward/petty officer/machinist/storekeeper bottom ranks upon sailor enlistment and meritoriously ascending towards flag officer rank of admirals, could be claimed as a Filipino-American distinction. 

How about a four-generation Filipino involvement in the US Navy, with six brothers all serving at the same time, and with cousins and in-laws to boot? A clan, for sure. A village, almost? Beginning with a great grandfather, evidently of the “Insular Force” vintage down to the present, (and so far, not yet the end of the line) a senior Chief Petty Officer. All out of Cavite and Subic, too, historical venues of US Navy presence in the Philippines.

According to my contributing informant, old man Ramirez from Cavite is remembered to have been a US Navy veteran of pre-Commonwealth times. His son Julian, also enlisted in the US Navy as a cook just before WWII and also served in the Korean War. Julian Ramirez, with wife Dionisia Sahagun of Zambales, sired six boys who all followed their father’s and grandfather’s choice of lifestyle and calling. 

The six boys, the Ramirez grandsons, who joined the US Navy were: Rodolfo, Alfredo, Ernesto, Delfin, Efren and Leonardo. Topping that, quite a number of their cousins and in-laws from both the Cavite and Zambales sides, also enlisted as sailors. Most have reportedly migrated to the US. Except Rodolfo who retired as a ‘supply chief warrant officer,’ and thereafter chose to work in the Subic Naval Station. A son of Rodolfo, Renne Ramirez, is now a Chief Petty Officer presently stationed in Southern California, after having served in Iraq. It is not known, for now, if any of the Ramirez brothers had children who also joined the US Navy. (Disclosure: My source is Ruel Ramirez, a much younger colleague of mine, a co-alumnus in the San Beda College newspaper, ‘The Bedan.’ I have urged him to contact uncles, cousins, etc. and expand on the Ramirez story.)

Earlier in our series, I expressed a wish for someone academically qualified, faced with a choice for a post-graduate thesis, to devote scholarship to the historic happenstance which is the ‘Filipino in the US Navy.’ After all, it is also an American phenomenon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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