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National push to name next Navy ship after early AAPI hero

1915 Medal of Honor recipient: Telesforo Trinidad
Posted at 5:32 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 20:59:09-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- In the US Navy's long history, there has only been one Asian American sailor to have ever received the Medal of Honor. More than 100 years later, there is a national campaign to honor Telesforo Trinidad's legacy.

The family room in Daniel Gruta's Mira Mesa home is like a museum. Almost every inch of his wall is covered by many displays of his US Navy achievements and memorabilia. The retired Captain spent many years at sea. He said he was motivated to join, thanks to those who came before him.

"My father's a retired Navy Chief, and I had an uncle that's a retired Master Chief," Gruta said.

But the one story he is most inspired by is about a fellow Filipino American who served in the US Navy more than a century ago.

"That man is named Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad," Gruta said proudly.

In 1901, the Philippine Islands were an American Colony, and locals were now allowed to serve in the United States military. In 1910, Trinidad joined the Navy. He became a fireman aboard the USS San Diego off the coast of the Gulf of California.

On a cold January day in 1915, the boiler room on USS San Diego exploded. While most sailors evacuated the area, Fireman Second Class Trinidad ran into the flames.

"Trinidad said, 'Wait a minute, there's somebody left in there. I need to get them out,'" Gruta said.

He found a fellow sailor and dragged him out to safety. Despite being injured after a second explosion, Trinidad went back in, saving another man.

"As a result, an Officer and Trinidad were awarded the Medal of Honor on April 1, 1915," Gruta said.

To this day, Trinidad still holds the distinction of being the first and only Asian American in the US Navy to be given the Medal of Honor.

So inspired by his heroism, Captain Gruta is part of a national campaign to get the next Navy ship named the USS Telesforo Trinidad.

The campaign has already gotten the support of several lawmakers, including San Diego's first mayor of Filipino descent, Todd Gloria, and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (CA-53).

"It's incredibly important to honor the bravery of this man, especially as we see this rise in anti-Asian sentiment, to really show that the Asian American community has a long history of service to our country, and it's time we honor that," Jacobs said.

She has garnered the support of several members on the Hill and has written a letter to the Secretary of the Navy asking for Trinidad's name to be considered at the top of the list. For Gruta and other Filipino American service members, the naming would mean the world.

"It's not for the Navy of the past. It's for the Navy of today and to the future," Gruta said.

If Trinidad were alive today, Gruta believes he would be humbled and honored, just the way he feels to have been a part of something greater than himself.

"For sailors, always think about is our ship and shipmate before we think about ourselves," Gruta teared up.

The Secretary of the Navy will have the final say in the naming of the ship. For more information on the USS Telesforo Trinidad campaign, click here.