Segment from Call To Arms

Filipino Sailors

Ed talks to Artemio Manalang, and his daughter Aprilfaye Manalang, about how the American government offered a path to citizenship for thousands of Filipinos after World War Two  if they enlisted in the US Navy.  Artemio enlisted in l975 served in the Navy for 24 years.  Then Brian, Joanne and Ed talk about the role of the draft in the wars of the 20th century, and the creation of an all-volunteer Army after the Vietnam War.


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BRIAN: For decades, enlistment in the military has been closely associated with American citizenship. In 1862, Congress passed legislation that offered naturalization for immigrants who enlisted in the US army during the Civil War. After World War I, the government declared that any immigrant fighting for US forces was eligible for citizenship. But we’d like to turn to a unique example in American history, when the US military actively recruited soldiers from a former colony.

JOANNE: The Philippines became a US protectorate after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The US occupied the island nation for almost 50 years, including through a bloody and failed uprising for self-rule. The Philippines finally gained its independence from the US in 1946. A year later, the two countries signed an agreement that allowed the United States to maintain a military presence in its former colony. The accord included an unusual provision, it allowed young Filipino men to enlist in the United States Navy. They were the only foreigners allowed to join the service without having first moved to the United States.

ED: The program was highly selective, nearly 100,000 young men applied every year. But in some years, as few as just 400 were chosen. By the time the agreement ended in 1992, some 35,000 Filipinos had won a coveted spot in the United States Navy. One of them was Artemio Manalang, who enlisted in 1975. I sat down with Artemio and his daughter, Aprilfaye Manalang. She’s a professor at Norfolk State University. And she studies the experiences of Filipino veterans like her father. I asked Artemio, or Art, as he prefers to be called, what made him want to enlist in the US Navy?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: They were offering good pay. In the Philippines, during that time, was like there are almost no jobs existing. If there are, they’re not really paying you enough to support the family.

ED: I see. How big was your family, Art?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: It’s very big, I’m the second oldest. We’re 11. Yeah, so, I said I have to do something here.

ED: Now what did your family think when you sailed off with the Navy?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: They love it too, because I kept sending money every month. So I can help the siblings and my parents.

ED: So they were proud of you and grateful too, right?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: Yes, of course, yes. The best thing that ever happened to us, it’s like winning a jackpot for life, I think.

ED: Well, that’s great. I don’t want to focus on negative things in such a positive story, but I’m guessing everything wasn’t as they say smooth sailing was it?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: The real struggle was when you’re dealing with sudden change of the environment, because coming from a tropical country like the Philippines, like between 90 degrees, 100 something all year round. And then suddenly, they brought you in San Diego, preferably Treasure Island, where it’s windy and so cold. We were like wait a minute, it’s so cold. It’s so cold, we can’t bear it. So it’s a good thing they gave us our uniforms. So everybody was in their big coats and raincoats.

ED: And it’s just a good thing they didn’t ship you to Seattle, right?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: Yes. And dealing with the people, and then the language, it was a culture shock.

ED: So did you ever run into prejudice?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: Yes. You can feel it sometimes. They say it, but you have to keep thinking forward.

ED: Right, right.

ARTEMIO MANALANG: You have to reset your attitude to where you want to make believe yourself that I’m also as equal as they are.

ED: So can you give us an example?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: Well, the only resentment that I can recall back then was my first few years. You know? Because I was the only– like at my first assignment, I was the only Filipino in the group. Sometimes they would say, hey take them up there where he belongs. I found out later that where I supposed to be belonging to work was up there in the galley.

ED: So do you mean they thought you should have been a cook?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: Yes, because most of my friends, Filipinos who were working as tours back then and cooks.

ED: Right, right. So what work did you do?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: I did maintaining, operating, and troubleshooting propulsion engines. I was in engineering, anyway. I was an engine man to be exact.

ED: Well, that sounds like a lot of responsibility. Were there other Filipino sailors with you? Or were you kind of on your own?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: If I can recall, we were 14, but I was the only one in engineering.

ED: So I guess you were in higher status, but maybe a lonelier position than the Filipino men working altogether?


ED: When you signed up with the Navy, was American citizenship something that was on your mind? Was that a goal?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: Yes, it’s becoming to be a goal as soon as I reported to the ship, because that’s when the Filipinos gather and talk. Every chance we get, hey, how are we going to do this? How are we going to bring our families, how we’re going to improve their lives, our lives? That’s when we found out hey, citizenship. Get them over here, get them enrolled, get them a vocation, college degree whatever, so that when you bring them over here, they’re ready to work.

ED: How long did it take you to achieve that?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: 9 and 1/2 years.

ED: So April, I know that you’ve been looking at the experience of people such as your father in your work. Could you tell us a little bit about what you found from a more analytical perspective?

APRILFAYE MANALANG: Yes. Filipino-American military servicemen and their families, they feel that opportunity and the ability to obtain American citizenship is what they call a blessing from God.

ED: That’s a pretty strong endorsement.

APRILFAYE MANALANG: It is. And it took me off guard. So I then began to ask the question of if they feel that their American citizenship is a blessing, then how do they conceptualize that civically? Because another accompanying finding that has persisted throughout the interviews is just this feeling of what they have termed and coined as [NON-ENGLISH], which means feel indebtedness for the host nation which provided those opportunities as embodied by my father.

ED: So what do you make of your father’s experience and relationship to the larger American experience with the Philippines, which has not always been an easy one.

APRILFAYE MANALANG: I’ll personally share that I feel ambivalent about it, because I know that there is that former colonial relationship. And so there is that aspect of the power dynamics coming to play. And when I interview these military servicemen, that is not the story they’re telling me, by and large. And so, there is the very real interviews in which people are reporting overall a positive experience, and then what I’ve also found in the interviews is that because they feel that blessing of American citizenship, and due to that indebtedness, the first generation, in particular, feels uncomfortable with politically engaging political protests.

ED: I see, it feels like it’s demanding something rather than giving something.

APRILFAYE MANALANG: Right. So I have even heard the phrase of we don’t want to bite the hand that feeds us, and it is enough for them that their children are more successful than they are. What they do say though, is that our children will do that, because our children will not have that indebtedness. I did ask my youngest brother Paul once, do you feel indebted? And he’s like what are you talking about, for what? And I said for being American? And he just goes, you’re weird. I do suspect that might embody my generation.

ED: Well, the possible interpretation of this is you feel the debt has been paid. Your parents paid the debt, and now you’re full Americans to do whatever you want to do.

APRILFAYE MANALANG: What I will say is I am very grateful for the opportunities and blessings that I have experienced due to my father’s enlistment, which I know for a fact would not be possible without his hard work.

ED: So Art, it seems only fitting that you should have the last word. You’ve served the United States a lot longer than most people who were born here. Would you like to reflect on what the story of your life as American sailor means?

ARTEMIO MANALANG: Being an American sailor is to come here and serve the United States Navy and fulfill their dreams that everybody dream about in the Philippines. It was an honor, and it was a blessing from God.


ED: Artemio Manalang retired from the US Navy in 1999 after 24 years of service. Aprilfaye Manalang is a professor at Norfolk State University.

JOANNE: OK, so Ed, Brian, during the Revolutionary period, you had a whole bunch of different ways to get people to enlist. You had the hiring of mercenaries, you had people being enticed with the offer of money. But one thing we really haven’t talked about is the draft.

ED: Yeah, Joanne, in the revolution you had conscription, but in the Civil War, they took it to a whole other level. Both the United States and the Confederacy had to build vast armies virtually overnight. And the number of men actually drafted was relatively small, because just the presence, the threat of the draft, encouraged men to volunteer before they had to be drafted. If you were drafted, you had to go wherever they sent you. If you volunteered, you could fight with your local unit. And once you were actually enlisted in the Army, North or South, if you were known as a draftee, what they called a conscript, you were not treated well by your fellow soldiers. They considered you somewhat cowardly, and probably pretty inept. They weren’t really thrilled to see you show up on their flank. So it was a stigma attached both at home and on the battlefield, and yet the draft was very important to both sides.

Now it goes away after the end of the Civil War, United States doesn’t have to fight another major war for generations. And so I know that in the 20th century, Brian, they had to scramble when it comes to World War I, right?

BRIAN: That’s right, Ed. In fact, every major war that the United States fought in the 20th century was staffed, in part, by drafting Americans. World War I, the United States got into the Great War very late in the game. So they didn’t have to draft that many people, and a lot of Americans hoped to get back to the draft being an exception, like it was with the Civil War. But World War II comes along, and there are a huge number of Americans drafted. It actually made the Army very egalitarian. Everybody was subject to the draft.

In Korea, the draft continued. It continued through Vietnam, and we really didn’t end the draft until the 1970s when Richard Nixon advocated for what became known as the all volunteer army.

ED: So, Brian, now we’ve gone to an all volunteer army, what would you reckon is the pros and cons of that?

BRIAN: Well, as much as the draft challenges our conception of liberty, for instance, the draft during World War II, for instance, affected all Americans. And the army was a real cross section, to the extent you can get that in an army, of all Americans. You contrast that to the Vietnam War, where there was a draft, but increasingly that draft fell disproportionately on poor people and disproportionately on African-Americans. In order to fight a very unpopular war, a war that was seen as immoral.

ED: So Brian, where does that leave us today?

BRIAN: It’s very easy to forget that when America fights its wars, and we are at war in a number of places, the burden of war is falling disproportionately on those who enlist, those in the military, and it’s not spread fully across a side.


JOANNE: That’s going to do it for today. But you could keep the conversation going online. Let us know what you thought of the episode or ask us your questions about American History. You’ll find us at, or send an email to We’re also on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter at BackStoryRadio. And if you like the show, feel free to review it in Apple podcasts. Whatever you do, don’t be a stranger.

MALE SPEAKER: This episode was produced by Andrew Parsons, Bridgid McCarthy, Nina Earnest, Emily Gadek, and Ramona Martinez. Jamal Millner is our technical director, Diana Williams is our digital editor, and Joey Thompson is our researcher. Our theme song was written by Nick Thorburn. Other music in our show came from Podington Bear, Ketsa, and Jahzzar. And thanks to the Johns Hopkins University’s Studio in Baltimore.

ED: BackStory is produced at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. We’re a proud member of the Panoply Podcast Network. Major support is provided by an anonymous donor, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Provost’s Office at the University of Virginia, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and The Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.

FEMALE SPEAKER: Brian Balogh is professor of history at the University of Virginia, and the Dorothy Compton professor at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. Ed Ayers is professor of the humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Richmond. Joanne Freeman is professor of history and American studies at Yale University. Nathan Connolly is the Herbert Baxter Adams associate professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University. BackStory was created by Andrew Wyndham for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.