I was excited when I was invited to be part of the US Navy presentation at the FANHS 2000 conference, and privileged to share the panel with 90-year-young Ulpiano Santo. 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. Since Ulpino is over 90 years old, I issued a challenge from New Jersey before arriving. My plan was to discuss how far we had gone in the US Navy.
First, I want to
tell you about the current Filipino achiever, Captain Mariano, daughter of a
Navy Steward; she is now being nominated for Admiral. Then there's Captain Dick
Corpuz, a Submarine Commodore who is may become 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. Dr Connie Mariano became the youngest
Captain and Gregory Bambo was also the youngest in the 70s. Greg might be just
a product of the Navy minority search in the mid-fifties but he is living proof
that Filipinos can fill the highest ranks. He proved that equal opportunity
Filipino-Americans were limited to being merely stewards and cooks during the first fifty years. Later in the sixties, more Filipino Nationals were given the option to change ratings where security clearance is not required. US-born citizens and naturalized citizens also took the opportunity to join the Warrant and Officer ranks. But I have to tell you about these stewards. Ulpiano was one. He did not have a any other choice. Even though I never met him during my stint 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 a 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 reknown selection basis can be summarized by this process: he asked a candidate 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 of 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 might be in trouble, but since he was going to drive himself to Miami the next day to defend his US title, I went to play the match. 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, even my wild shots that were out of play. He told me later that I still had the form but 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. I knew as I followed him in his car back from the match. His license plate read: USAnto. What a true champion! Ron Santo, ABS Reporter, & his wife
The Senior Senior, by Larry Hodges
July-Aug 1999 National Table Tennis Magazine
Flash back to North Carolina, circa 1979, where this writer regularly saw Ulpiano Santo at the regularly saw Ulpiano Santo at the monthly tournaments at the Butterfly Table Tennis Club in Wilson. Santo was the oldest player at the tournaments, and just about the oldest player around anywhere. He was regularly acknowledged as the model of what others hoped they’d be doing when they too were that old.
It is not that Santo hasn’t won many of these events. Between the US Open, US Nationals, the USS Meiklejohn Senior Championships and the US Senior Olympics, he’s won over 70 three times, over 75 three times, and over 80 five times. He also notes that in one final, his opponent dropped dead during the match, giving him the title.
Ulpiano grew up in the Philippines, a territory of the US during his youth. He joined the US Navy in 1920 (where he would eventually become a chief steward), and immigrated to the US in 1930. He met and married his wife, Pequita, 60 years ago in Puerto Rico, and they are still married-with Pequita attending the US Open with him. He retired to Chesapeake, Virginia in 1956 after 27 years in the Navy-43 years ago!