I recently learned about the following story about John McCain in the Mercury News. At the Navy Academy, an upperclassman was berating a Filipino steward who was serving food in the mess hall. McCain, at that time a lower classman, risked being expelled by challenging the upperclassman, who backed off. There are questions raised by this incident. What does this imply about McCain’s character and how he would be if president? How does this reconcile with his other somewhat alarming comments? Why do the accounts of this story mention a Filipino Steward?
Of these questions, I’ll answer the last one. The United States and the Philippines had a treaty that allowed the US to recruit Filipinos nationals into the U.S. Navy. These were coveted positions because of the opportunity to go to the US, although for a long period of time, the main job given to these Filipinos was as a steward (read serving personnel). My father came to the US this way, and he spent a few years as an admiral’s stewards (basically a servant). The large Filipino populations around San Diego, Norfolk Virginia, and to an extent, the Bay Area, formed because of these Filipino sailors.
My dad put in 20 years, and I grew up around and on Navy bases. Looking back, it was a weird lifestyle — shopping at the Commissary and Exchange, having the military dependents ID card, and going to the military hospital when you were sick. It had some big downsides, like not seeing ones father for months at a time. [Are there any other fellow Filipino navy brats out there who remember flying space available on a military charter to the Philippines? If so, give a shout out!]
My father tells some great stories about his life in Navy. He said that during the Jim Crow era in the South, he and his fellow Filipino didn’t know from which water fountain to drink (“colored” or “white”). He served several tours off of Vietnam, and he was part of the Cuban missile blockade. He still has his sea legs – we visited the USS Hornet (an interesting place to visit if you have the time), and even though he was in his 70s, he moved like a cat, traveling easily up and down the decks and through bulkheads.
After the American bases closed in the Philippines, the US stopped taking Filipinos nationals into the Navy. His generation is getting old, and he and my Mom attend a lot of funerals of Filipino American Navy veterans. I actually thought about writing a book on his generation, but there are already a few books about this era. I’ll read a few and see if any are worth recommending.