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Navy warship named for Medal of Honor recipient who saved fellow sailors from deadly inferno

“He let his actions speak for himself. And I suppose that's why he did what he did."
Haley Britzky Avatar
Telesforo Trinidad. (Defense Department)

A new Navy destroyer will be named after the first and only Filipino to receive the Medal of Honor, who braved flames and suffocating smoke to rescue his crewmates in 1915. 

A future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer will be named the USS Telesforo Trinidad, after Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo De La Cruz Trinidad, according to a Navy press release. The namesake couldn’t be more fitting: Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are “the backbone of the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet,” the release says, and Trinidad was a prime example of selfless service. 

Born in the Philippines in November 1890, Trinidad enlisted in the Navy after the Spanish-American War when the Philippines was still a U.S. territory. He was “so eager” to join the service, the Associated Press reported, that he “stowed away on a lifeboat” to get to the main island to enlist. 

He served throughout World Wars I and II, according to the Medal of Honor Museum, before he retired in 1945. He lived in the Philippines until he passed at the age of 77, on May 8, 1968. But the heroism that earned him the nation’s highest military honor happened years before, on January 21, 1915.

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Trinidad was aboard the USS San Diego in the Gulf of California at the time, when the captain of the ship “conducted a four-hour, full-speed and endurance trial,” according to the museum. At the end of the trials, however, an “obstructed tube of one of the ship’s boilers gave way,” which created a chain reaction of explosions that ultimately killed nine other sailors. 

The blasts pushed Trinidad out of fire room two, but he soon realized another sailor was trapped inside. At the risk of his own life, he immediately went back into the smoke-filled room to rescue the injured sailor, Fireman 2nd Class R.E. Daly. As he carried Daly to safety, Trinidad was again caught in an explosion from fire room three, leaving his face “badly burned.” Still, Trinidad kept pushing. He handed Daly off to someone else for more assistance, and then went back into fire room three to rescue another injured sailor. 

His Medal of Honor citation notes his “extraordinary heroism” throughout the ordeal. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels signed off on his medal a few months later on April 1, 1915 — making Trinidad the first and only Filipino to be recognized with the highest U.S. military award for bravery..

“He let his actions speak for himself,” his grandson Rene told the AP of Trinidad, a man of few words. “And I suppose that’s why he did what he did.”

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro speaks at the 80th Pearl Harbor Anniversary ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia,File)

Before the announcement, there was a campaign by veterans and civilians around the U.S. and in the Philippines to name a warship for Trinidad, the AP reported. Supporters of the effort said the move would honor not only Trinidad but the “tens of thousands of Filipinos and Americans of Filipino descent who have served in the U.S. Navy since 1901,” according to the AP. 

The effort appeared to find a friend in Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, who said in the service press release that he first learned of Trinidad at the Naval Academy and had hoped to name a ship after him once he was sworn in.

“This ship and her future crew will be a critical piece in strengthening our maritime superiority while also emphasizing the rich culture and history of our naval heritage. … I hope the naming of this ship is a beacon for not only Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” Del Toro said, “but for all our Sailors, Marines, and civilians who serve across the Department of the Navy.”

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