AN OUTSTANDING FILIPINO-AMERICAN SAILOR:  Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, United State Navy

HAZE GRAY AND UNDERWAY:  Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Sibayan poses for posterity with his shipmates aboard the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) while at sea

A GALLANT SHIP:  The damaged American destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) limps to port at the US Navy base in Yokusuka, Japan after the tragic collision


SAN DIEGO, Calif.  -  “Non sibi, sed patriae” (Latin: “Not for self but country”).  

This reverent but disengaged attitude toward the American military – we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them – has become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm.

    But it is not, if I must say so.

    Here’s why.

    First come about the crash, then the rushing water – and then, the wave of grief.

    Tragically, the sorrow swelled after divers found seven bodies in the wreckage of the US Navy ship USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) off the coast of Japan last weekend.  It washed across the United States, through dire phone calls, texts and solemn visits.

The seven sailors who died when the destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a container ship were a snapshot of the nation they work for: an immigrant from the Philippines whose father served in the Navy before him; a poor teenager whose Guatemalan family came north eager for opportunity; a native of Vietnam hoping to help his family; a firefighter’s son from a rural crossroads in the rolling green fields of Virginia.

    The roll call of the dead also illustrated the degree to which the military relies on recruits from immigrant communities around the nation.

    The Filipino-American from Chula Vista, California was among the seven sailors who died when the US destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged vessel of Japan on Saturday, 17 June 2017.

    That Monday was supposed to be the birthday celebration for the brother of Fire Controlman Second Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23.  Instead, his mother, Carmen, said she was preparing for a Mass at her home in Chula Vista, just outside of San Diego.

    The body of Carlos Sibayan was recovered after a severely damaged USS Fitzgerald returned to a US Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan aided by tugboats.

    Mrs. Sibayan said her son was born in the Philippines and that the family left when he was 4 to join his father in America.

    Carlos Sibayan grew up with a military family, as his father served 21 years in the Navy and who was often absent, while deployed on a ship somewhere, his mother told TV’s  NBC-7.

    Carmen Sibayan remarked that while her husband was away, her eldest son became the “dad” of the family - so Carlos Sibayan had assumed a patriarch’s role as a child, and helped raise his younger siblings outside San Diego.

    “One thing that my son always told me is how he has my back,” Carmen Sibayan informed the TV station.

    “In every sense of the world, he is my hero,” she apprized the news station.

    Carlos Sibayan was still a teenager in 2013, when he followed his father’s example and enlisted in the Navy.  During the three years he’d spent on board the Fitzgerald, his mother added, that his father had retired from the military and come home.

    Her son had been set to leave the ship and join them back in California in less than a month, she reported.  Then came the crash and collision, she concluded.

“We just borrow this time from God,” the mother said.  “So now he has to go back.”

Classmate Ryan Canate said he attended third grade with Carlos Sibayan on a military base in Japan and reconnected with his old friend on Facebook about five years ago.

“Even back then he was very sure he wanted to be in the Navy and serve our country,” Mr. Canate explained.  “As military brats, we are taught at an early age that our parents are deployed and something can happen to them,” he declared.  “But to learn that happened to him?  He was 23 years old.”

Friends describe Carlos Sibayan as an outgoing sailor who regularly dominated informal tournaments of the video game Super Smash Bros. that were held on the Navy destroyer.

Other friends recalled Carlos Sibayan as a real character – someone who could always be relied upon to light up a room.

As indicated in various personal accounts from his many friends, Carlos Sabayan was always smiling, they all observed in admiration.

“There was never a time that Carlos wasn’t making people laugh,” Chase Cornils, a fellow cadet in Chaparral High School’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, told the San Diego Union-Tribune reporter.

“He always had a cheerful attitude and a smile on his face.  When I think of Carlos, I can only remember an extremely happy guy who was willing to help all of his friends.”

“It hurts to see an awesome friend leave us.  I wish I had spent more time with him after high school.  Carlos was such an amazing guy and great friend.  He could always bring a smile to your face with his humor and personality.  He served our country well.  It is sad to hear he was one of the seven sailors who died on the USS Fitzgerald.  I am going to miss him dearly.  My prayers go out to his family and friends as well for the other six sailors’ friends and families.  I know we are all going to miss him,” Cornils remarked.

“Carlos Sibayan is one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met.  A hard worker and always had a positive attitude.  He could always put a smile on everyone’s face even during the worst of days at Great Lakes!  You will always be missed,” recorded one by the name of Sienna Echon on Facebook.

On Facebook, Sibayan himself wrote that he went to Chaparral High School, lived in Chula Vista, California, was in a relationship and was from Pasay City, Philippines.

Another friend remembered Sibayan’s kind-hearted personality in a lengthy and moving tribute.  It read, “The first thing I remembered about you was when we were kids back in Yokosuka.  It was 2002; we were in the same third grade class, and you were one of the quieter students in our class at the time.  As the year moved on, I got to know you a little more and we became friends when I discovered your kind and warm-hearted spirit.  I moved away after that year, and we couldn’t keep in contact until we were on Facebook in 2011 He-he…Even though it had been literally almost a decade, you, me and Frances could converse as if we were eight years old again.  You even told us you had plans for yourself to join the Navy after high school and I couldn’t help but look up to you and that conviction because you seemed so sure with what you wanted to do with your life.  Although we knew you at a different time in your life, one thing’s for sure: you will most definitely be missed.  Rest in peace, sailor.  Semper Fortis.”

    The other victims in the naval disaster were Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia:  Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26 from Weslaco, Texas; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm, Jr., 37, from Elyna, Ohio.

    (It is reported that Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, died alongside Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass in the hold of the ship as it was flooded with water.  The pair were both from San Diego, California – Sibayan from Chula Vista and Douglass from Oceanside, around 42 miles north of there).

    If you – my dear folks – are still not aware of it - in recent years, the military has tried to draw immigrants with programs that allow enlistees to become citizens after basic training - attracting about 5,000 takers each year according to the Department of Defense.  One out of every 13 US Navy sailors is foreign born, the highest proportion in any military branch, according to the statistics.  In fact, the service regularly holds citizenship ceremonies aboard ships.

    At the same time, the proportion of racial and ethnic minorities in the military, mirroring the nation as a whole, has surged to 40 percent – nearly twice what it was 20 years ago.

    Hard working…Proud of his work…Always positive…A volunteer firefighter…A superior sailor…The love of his wife’s life.  These are some of the ways that the fallen sailors of the USS Fitzgerald are being remembered by those who knew and loved them.

    Their backgrounds truly symbolize America’s tradition of diversity.  They were from states spread all over the country.

    As always the case is there is forever a Filipino-American amongst them all per my own personal observations and from shared experiences when I was still in the Navy myself.  

    And as the shocks set in, the sailors’ families and friends came forward to speak about their loss.

Indeed, it’s very important to remember who they were as a people in order to properly commemorate their lives which were genuinely devoted to service in the protection of the nation.

    Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley said the Navy is deeply saddened and promised a full investigation into a collision between the destroyer and a containers ship off Japan that killed the seven sailors.

    “We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our fellow shipmates as a result of Friday’s clash between USS Fitzgerald and a commercial container ship and our thoughts and prayers are with their families,” Stackley expressed in a statement.

    Stackley also praised their colleagues for saving the USS Fitzgerald from further damage and bringing it back to port.  The misfortune happened early Saturday morning as many of the crew slept.

    “In due time, the United States will investigate the cause of this tragedy and I ask all of you to keep the Fitzgerald families in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us,” the US Navy secretary reiterated.

    (The ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged vessel was manned by 20 Filipino crewmembers including the captain.  According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the ship was slightly damaged from the mishap but the Filipinos manning the vessel are all safe.)

    The seven sailors killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald ranged in age from 19 to 37.  The youngest was 19, a Virginia volunteer firefighter described as a “positive, uplifting guy.”  The oldest was a 37-year-old from Ohio, just three months short of retirement.

    I say - since the demise of the draft and the advent of voluntary service, many of our country’s finest and brightest men and women have volunteered for selfless service to our beloved nation.  

Their duty is difficult and their service in armed conflicts and troubled waters demand much in the way of personal sacrifices, made especially difficult by multiple deployments in varied, dangerous environments.  Most survive the conflicts but not without a heavy physical and emotional toll on themselves, and on their families.

    On this particular edition, I have the rare honor to pay tribute to these magnificent men and women of the gallant ship USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62).

    Like others before them, all seven fallen sailors and shipmates were driven by a mission to serve and a passion for the sea.  Many followed their parents into the Navy as was in the case of Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Sibayan.  It was truly their calling.

    As Americans, we should never, ever forget the ultimate sacrifice they did for our country and we will always be in their debt.

    God bless the United States of America!

    And rest in peace, my dear Shipmates.  

You are finally home and your nation salutes you all!