A Letter From Filipino Sailor Felix Estibal
Updated: Jan 4
Arroyo Grande sailor Felix Estibal served on the destroyer USS Walke; seen leaving Mare Island in San Francisco on its final voyage, in August 1942 (Department of the Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command)
Felix Estibal, a Filipino American, was a servant in the U.S. Navy in World War II, because that was the only job that Filipino Americans could pursue. Before the war, he worked at the at the Waller-Franklin Seed Company in the Arroyo Grande Valley, and below is a letter he wrote to his foreman, Javier Pantaleon, just five weeks before Felix's death. On November 15, 1942, Felix died in one of the pa naval battles after a deadly torpedo hit his ship, the USS Walke. Over eighty people aboard died, Felix included. But his words before his death, showcasing life as a Filipino American in the navy, are still preserved today. Take a read:
I hear the boatswain’s mate passing a rumor that mail will leave in the near future, so I
will include a brief report on myself. I am filled with good intentions to write you more
often, but am fuller of good excuses.
During the rare occasions when the weather is bad, I don’t write on account of the bad
weather. When it is fair, the hot sun enhances my natural inclinations to be lazy and
sleepy. My eight hours a day on watch add the finishing touches. I watch mostly for the
little men who aren’t there, but the Captain insists that they may be there any time.
Anyway when [the members of the crew of his ship, the Walke, her named struck out by
the censor] see them then they won’t be there long.
Notwithstanding all this I frequently get out my papers and pen and drape my elbows
over a mess table in a threatening manner. I think of you and wonder what you’re doing.
I reflect that this is a big wet ocean, and that we’ve been at sea so long that the salt is
caking in my hair, that this business about mermaids is a lot of baloney, that seeing the
world would be nicer if it wasn’t all water, that mail and Christmas come with about the
same frequency, and that the war will over in six months to 10 years.
I day dream about shore liberty in a good old U.S.A. port where there are a hundred
pretty girls to one sailor, nothing costs over a dime, and me with three months’ pay on
the books. Oh Boy!
About that time my literary efforts are interrupted by that leather-lunged whistle
blower, the Boatswains’ Mate, yelling that it’s time for drill, battle stations, chow, target
practice, movies, inspection, field day, air bedding, sweep down, peel spuds, scrub decks,
fuel ship, carry stores, dump garbage, darken ship, pump bilges, blow tubes, pipe down,
relieve the watch, or what have you.
Whereupon I sheath my pen and go to work, eat or sleep, as the case may be, without
having written a word to you. It may be just as well, as the censor would probably have
cropped them out anyway.
The Navy is a great life alright [sic]. I’m getting so used to living with 200 men in
enough space for two that when I get out I can use a telephone booth for a house and lot.
However, it could be worse. We have good weather, good chow, good health, good guns,
good digestion, good appetites, and may Heaven forgive that leather lunged whistle
blower, the boatswain’s mate.
While I can’t exactly say I’m having a good time and wish you were here, I hope you
are well and wish I was there. In the meantime, don’t worry about me as I can take good
care of myself and the other guys and I’m doing all right. At least I’m well and O.K.
Say Hello to all of your friends and the most to you.
Reference: Gregory, Jim, History Teacher, Mission Prep and Arroyo Grande High School