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I.                   TITLE: US Navy: Past, Present and Forever

II.                At the 8th Filipino American National Historical Society

Virginia Wesleyan College, Virginia Beach, Va June 28-July 1, 2000

 

III.             INTRODUCTION

 

Since the end of the Spanish-American War, tens of thousands of Filipinos served in the US Navy.  For many of these Filipinos, the entrance of their service began a new life in America, seeding a large population of Filipino-Americans.  For others who returned to Philippines, it meant a plethora of stories to pass on to many generations of Filipinos.  Perhaps it was in the Filipino sea-faring blood or simply the attraction of being able to tour the world under the umbrella of the United States, but the extent to which Filipinos took advantage of the opportunity to join the US Navy was great enough to create a unique history for both Filipinos and Filipino-Americans alike.

 

IV.            BACKGROUND

 

In 1947, an agreement was signed that allowed the United States to maintain military bases in the Philippines.  Prior to 1946, when the Philippine Islands were a US territory, Filipinos were actively recruited into the US Navy.  As part of this 1947 agreement, Filipinos were formally allowed to enlist in the US Armed Forces, specifically in the US Navy, without having to immigrate to the US.  Throughout the entire history of the US Armed Forces, Filipinos have been the only foreign nationals allowed to enlist.  In the early years of the program, Filipinos who enlisted were placed in the steward branch of the Navy.  Later, recruits were assigned to the Coast Guard.  Sangley Point and later Subic Bay became the processing centers for enlistment, where Filipino boys lined the main gates daily.  The program finally ended in 1992, and with the end of the 1947 agreement followed the closing of US Bases and the reduction of the US military.  Filipino-Americans joined the US Navy as his/her choice of service.

 

V.               The Filipino US Navy Recruits

 

The group of Filipinos that came to the United States under this program was the largest known wave of US immigration.  All the recruits were processed in San Diego, California, where they received Naval Training.  These young Filipinos represented a cross-section of the Philippine Islands, coming from poor and rich families of the North and of the South.  The families of these courageous Filipinos can be found in many coastal regions of the US, in military cities: San Diego, San Francisco, Charleston, Norfolk, and Jacksonville.  A few went back to their homeland to live a simple life off of their US Navy pension.

 

Family life is almost similar to the early farm worker, a plantation type environment where common housing were provided.  It is not far removed from the town but never the less it is what we can call almost a separate community. As late as the sixties, automatic citizenship was not available hence there were few who married US citizens.  During this time US started the two year Nursing exchange program with the Philippines. Almost equal numbers of eligible single Filipino nurses came to the US and married eligible sailors. Extended visas and work permits are what separated the sailors from the early farm workers, who generally remained single.  A running joke often found on the Internet is “you know you’re Filipino if your dad was in the navy and your mom is a nurse.”

 

Every town in the Philippines has their own US Navy Sailor. The numbers exceeded the total forces of the Philippine Navy. This is also true with the merchant marines; Filipinos serving foreign vessels probably exceeds the number onboard ships under the Philippine flag.

 

Today, our love affair with navy continues.  Even though the recruiting contract ended in 1992, the navy is still our service of choice. Filipinos compose 4.35 % of the FY2000 enlisted rank.  What is really incredible is the numbers in the top 3 pay grades (Chiefs).  278 Master Chiefs out of the total 3132 (8.88%) is simply amazing. 

 

Filipinos now are serving in all the Navy job classifications except those that are limited to US Citizens.  In the seventies the Steward branch was gradually abolished paving the way for more opportunities. In closing, I would like to explain what attracted us to the Navy.  We all descended from the ancient seafarer, the nomads of the Pacific, from the distant place, Dr Jose Rizal wrote to his friend Dr. Bluementritt, it is the fault of the Malay wanderlust in his blood. 

This is what brought us to this country whether you are in the Navy or not.

 

PERSONAL STORIES

Ricardo H. Torrecarion

Nestor P. Enriquez

White House Physician, Capt C Mariano

Capt Dick Corpus, Submarine Squadron Commander

 

Post Conference observation..

I was excited when I was invited to be part of the US Navy presentation at the FANHS, and privileged to share the panel with be Ulpiano Santo, 90 years old or young. He joined the US Navy in 1929 from Cavite. He is the US Table Tennis Champion and top -ranked player in the world in the Senior Division.

 Ping-Pong is my favorite game and I thought I was pretty good during my days. Knowing Ulpino is 90 years old and I issued challenge from New Jersey before arriving.

 

My plan was to discuss how far we had gone in the US Navy. I was going to tell you about the current and prospective achiever, Captain Mariano, daughter of Navy Steward who is now being nominated for Admiral and Captain Dick Corpuz, a Submarine Commodore  who is might make the Flag Admiral.  I met the Filipino Navy’s first top gun pilot, Capt Gregory Bambo, Jr, who flew sorties with Senator McCain in Vietnam and several successful products of the Filipino US Navy connections.  Dr Connie Mariano became the youngest Captain and Gregory Bambo was also the youngest in the 70s.  Gregg might be just a product of the Navy minority search in the mid fifties but he is living proof that we belong to the highest rank.   The Filipino-American were limited to just stewards and cooks during the first fifty years.   Later in the sixties, more Filipino Nationals were given options to change ratings where security clearance is not required.  US born citizen and naturalized citizen also took the opportunity to join the Warrant and Officer rank.   I have to tell you about these stewards.

 

Ulpiano was one.  Even though I never met him while in the Navy, I am sure that even in his humble capacity he was proud.  He gave 100% and like a true naval serviceman he did whatever task he was assigned.  In the beginning, I never understood why they were content with the job nobody wanted.  My time started with one of the most successful navy programs, the launching of Nuclear power. Admiral Rickover single-handedly picked the officers who were to man the first nuclear fleet.  His renown selection basis can be summarized by this process:  he asked candidates from why he got only a C in History, for example, while his other grades were A. If that candidate replied that he was not interested in the subject he would not be accepted. Those who tried their best regardless whether they liked the required subject were the ones who made the program. The Navy is a traditional unit of the military.  Ulpiano had done his assigned job in the outstanding  manner.

 

 Sometime during the conference I got a call from the Senior Ping-Pong champion saying he would like to play a match with me. He remembered my challenge and still had a sharp mind. I knew I was in trouble but since he was going to drive himself to Miami the next day to defend his US title. To avoid humiliating myself, we did not keep score.  I knew it was going to be a good experience because I was sure what kind of style he was going to play. True to his life, he was patient and defensive. I could drive the balls and the ball would come back to me including my wild shots that were out of play.  He told me later that I still had the form except my timing was just off.

 

 I am sure he told the same thing to all the young boys who served with him in the Navy. After all, who would know more about time than him?  He played his game as hard as he served the Navy.  He took all the shit America threw at him and smiled back. He defended his (corner) side, maybe not as spectacular as a serve and volley specialist. He served his assigned job in the US Navy without being bitter to an American. It shows in his car license plate, "USAnto." A true champion.