455. Filipino Sailors in the Navy

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Filipino nationals served as stewards on Intrepid and Growler, the result of a unique relationship between the United States and the Philippines that began in 1901.

Video: Filipino Sailors in the Navy

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Collection Connection

Newspaper interview on page 2 with the headline “SD1 Pernites: Why He Joined; Why He Stayed.” There is a black and white candid photo of Vicente Pernites in the upper right corner with the caption “Pernites discusses citizenship.”
The Achiever, July 1, 1970 
“SD1 Pernites: Why He Joined; Why He Stayed”

Many men born in the Philippines served on Intrepid. Because of U.S. Navy policy at the time, most were restricted to serving as stewards. This interview in the ship’s newspaper profiles Steward First Class Vicente Pernites. He was born in Baybay, Philippines and joined the U.S. Navy in 1960. He explains the process Filipino service members had to follow to become U.S. citizens. 

Collection of the Intrepid Museum. Gift of Dennis Byrne. A2011.10

Learn More: Filipino Sailors on Intrepid and Growler

Immigrants have always been an important part of the American military. In the U.S. Navy, Filipinos have a unique history of service.

In the early 20th century, the Navy stopped recruiting foreign citizens at international ports. However, the Navy enlisted sailors from the Philippines, a U.S. colony from 1898–1946, and other overseas territories. A treaty allowed the Navy to continue enlisting Filipino citizens even after the country achieved independence. 

Service in the Navy offered an opportunity to earn higher wages, travel the world and earn American citizenship. The application process was fiercely competitive. However, until 1971, all Filipino recruits were assigned to the steward rating. Stewards worked in the wardroom, cooking and cleaning for officers. 

The steward rating was racially segregated. At various times in the 20th century, the branch was majority-Black or majority-Filipino. From 1932–1942, the Navy restricted Black sailors to the steward branch. In the years following the desegregation of the Navy in 1948, Filipinos became the majority of stewards. Few if any white sailors were assigned to this role prior to the 1970s. 

Filipino nationals served on both Intrepid and Growler. Because they served in the same division, most Filipinos on Intrepid roomed together and primarily socialized with other Filipinos. Growler had a much smaller crew, and only three Filipino stewards were aboard at any given time. Many Filipinos served long careers in the Navy and ultimately became American citizens.

After years of criticism, the Navy began opening jobs beyond the steward rating to Filipino recruits in 1971. The Philippines ended the recruitment program entirely in 1992. 

Learn more about Black stewards during World War II at Mobile Guide Stop 515: Segregation at Sea.

Direct recruitment from the Philippines ended in 1992. Most, if not all, of the men and women from the final class of Filipino recruits have retired from Navy service. Yet the legacy of the Philippines recruitment program continues to shape the Navy. 

Today, many second- and third-generation Filipino Americans carry on the tradition of naval service. When U.S. Navy ships dock in Subic Bay, Filipino American sailors look forward to visits with extended family in the Philippines. Filipino dishes like pancit are commonly served aboard ships. Communities with large naval bases tend to have substantial Filipino communities alongside them.

Many Filipino Americans have built impressive careers as Navy officers. After a decade running the White House Medical Unit, Dr. Eleanor “Connie” Mariano became the first Filipino American Admiral. She was quickly joined by others, like siblings Vice Admiral Dr. Raquel Cruz Bono and Rear Admiral Anatolio B. Cruz. Sister and brother held flag rank simultaneously.

Filipino Americans also have pushed the Navy to honor Filipino history. In 2022, the Navy named a guided missile destroyer after Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1915 for saving his shipmates from a boiler explosion. 

Panel Photo: This is a description of the image printed on the panel for this stop at the museum.

Photo description: Black and white photograph from the 1967 cruise book of a steward setting the table in the wardroom. He is likely of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage.

Caption: A steward setting a table for the ship’s officers.

Credit: 1967 USS Intrepid cruise book


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