“The Highest in Honor” – Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad

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May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The following story continues our month-long focus on Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans.

Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo de la Crux 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, signed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels on April 1, 1915.

Three months earlier, 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 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.

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 another fireman 2nd class R.E. Daly, 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.

Without consideration for his own safety… he assisted in rescuing another injured man.

For his heroics, Trinidad received not only a letter of commendation and the much-prized Medal of Honor — but also a gratuity of $100.

Trinidad came from humble beginnings. He was born on Nov. 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 William 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.