Asian American Pacific Islander History: Manuel Tubella, Jr.

May 23, 1960

In central California, the San Mateo-based newspaper The Times reported on a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) helicopter rescue the previous night at a beach in the region. “‘Copter Saves Injured Pair From Beach,” read the article’s headline.

The trouble began while a young couple was picnicking and sunbathing along the edge of a cliff located 40 feet (12.19 meters) above a beach. The woman lost her footing and began sliding over the edge. Her boyfriend, trying to grab her, ended up tumbling down with her to the beach below. Despite his own injuries from the fall, the man was able to hobble along the beach in search of help. He came across a group of picnickers, who notified the local sheriff’s office about the emergency situation. The sheriff’s office, in turn, quickly notified the USCG for assistance since that remote section of the beach was not accessible to motor vehicles.

A half-hour later, a USCG helicopter piloted by Lieutenant Manuel Tubella, Jr., landed on the beach. Tubella and the two crew members on board the helicopter then transported the injured couple to the nearby USCG station, where an ambulance was able to pick up the couple and take both to a local hospital for treatment.

This successful rescue mission was a comparatively small but telling example of the noteworthy career of Tubella, who is of Filipino ancestry and has the distinction of being the first Asian-Pacific Island American aviator in the USCG. Tubella was also the first Asian-Pacific Island American to attain the rank of captain in the USCG.

Tubella’s flying career dated back to 1954, when he began training in propeller aircraft as a naval aviation cadet at Pensacola, Florida. After he completed that training, Tubella was transferred to Beeville, Texas, to learn how to fly jet aircraft. He was subsequently designated a naval aviator and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Reserve. Tubella eventually underwent helicopter flight training at Pensacola. After completion of that training in 1956, he was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station New River at Jacksonville, North Carolina.

In 1958, Tubella officially changed his military affiliation when he received a commission in the USCG Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade). Along with being stationed in central California, Tubella also served at the USCG Air Station in Kodiak, Alaska. Tubella retired from the USCG Reserve in 1984. During the course of his long career with that military reserve, Tubella was awarded a number of decorations. These included the Coast Guard Meritorious Service Medal, the Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal, and a Coast Guard Letter of Commendation Ribbon.

For more information on Manuel Tubella, Jr., and other trailblazing Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have served in the U.S. Coast Guard, please check out

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