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US Navy Commander Back In His PH Roots

MANILA, Philippines — “Home is where the heart is.”
Thus, said Cmdr. Leopoldo Albea, Jr., the Filipino-American commanding officer of USS Wayne E. Meyer, who admitted feeling emotional as the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer of the United States Navy finally pulled into Manila on Sunday for a four-day port visit.
Albea, whose parents hail from Bicol, is one of only three or four US Navy Commanding Officers in the US Navy of Filipino heritage, according to a spokesperson of the US Embassy in Manila.
For him, stopping in Manila means returning to the country his father – retired Master Chief Mess Management Specialist Leopoldo Albea Sr. – left decades ago to join the US Navy.
In an interview aboard the USS Wayne Meyer, Albea told this writer about the humble beginnings of his father, who is a son of a fisherman from Polangui, Albay who strived hard to be able to go to school, until he eventually managed to enter the US Navy.
Once in the US Navy, Albea’s father migrated to the United States where he then met the woman who soon became his wife. According to the young Albea, his mother is a graduate of the University of Sto. Tomas.
Albea’s father spent 28 years in the service, until he retired as Master Chief Mess Management Specialist in 1992.
Albea Sr. returned to the Philippines after retiring and now, stopping in the Philippines is like coming full circle for his son.
“It was with a deep sense of pride that my father left this country to start a career in the United States Navy, and today I also feel that deep sense of pride as Filipino-American returning in command of USS Wayne E. Meyer,” said Albea.
Although hardly able to speak Tagalog having been born and raised in the US, Albea is still a Filipino at heart who proudly talks of his roots.
The Navy officer admitted he can only speak a few Filipino words but said he somehow understands the language when he listens to a conversation in Tagalog.
Among the few Tagalog words that he know are “kain na,” “konti lang,” and “bakit.”
The only son of his parents, the young Albea first visited the Philippines in 1975. He had the chance to return in 1993 as a present from his father after graduating from the US Naval Academy.
“In 1995, it was my first time to come here as a naval officer on the ship but I did not get ashore like I wanted to. I saw Manila through the window,” recounted Albea.
Asked about how he feels about coming to Manila this time, when he is now the commanding officer of the US Navy’s 58th Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, Albea said, “It was extremely emotional.”
In one instance, as they were through San Bernardino Strait, Albea said that with the mere sight of Mount Bulosan, he knew they were close to his parents’ hometown.
“Though we were just passing through, I couldn’t help but think how my parents grew up just on the other side of the strait, and now how their son was sailing through with a US Navy battlegroup,” said Albea said in one of his blogs.
“Even better, I was sailing through in command of USS Wayne E. Meyer, an opportunity I could only imagine until today. With Albay Bay just north of the entrance to San Bernardino, the thought of being so close warmed me, knowing that I have family there,” he added.
In August last year, USS Wayne E. Meyer, along with other ships from the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG), was scheduled to visit Manila.
The visit, however, was cancelled due to inclement weather spawned by Typhoon “Mina.”
“We didn’t get to pull into Manila the last time around and unfortunately this time my father will not be able to join me, but I know he is still proud of my accomplishments,” said Albea.
“My father left the Philippines with the goal of joining the Navy, starting a family and building a home. Now I get to return while serving in the same Navy he left to join,” he added.
Albea said being the commanding officer of USS Wayne Meyer, pulling into Manila also means that bringing home fellow Filipino-American crew members of his ship.
“I’m hoping that someday, some child will remember that a sailor came to town and helped refurbish their school,” he said, noting that among the activities lined up during their port visit is the refurbishing of classrooms at a public school in Quezon City.
When asked what he would like to tell his fellow Filipinos, Albea said: “If I could stand in front of a group, I would first say I’m sorry that I am not delivering this in Tagalog.”
“But back in the United States, there are generations of Filipinos who are very proud of their culture back home. Our source of pride runs that deep.
“I hope that Filipinos in the United States, or wherever they are, as they come up and start becoming in power, wherever they are, we will keep coming back home and keep giving back. That, for me, is worth striving for.”
On a personal level, Albea said he hopes to continue coming back and hopefully giving back to the country.
January 30, 2012, 8:04pm
Manila Bulletin ( Mb.Com.Ph)


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