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History and Heritage

Finding His Roots

Reserve Sailor Returns to Roots in Philippines

The soles of his polished black boots hit each rung of the accommodation ladder with a clank. Each step is heavy with anticipation. He is departing from the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) to a place he hasn't been in 42 years and wasn't sure if he'd ever return to at all.

Chief Machinist's Mate Joseph Angelo Pisano, a Navy Reservist from San Diego, was born in the Republic of the Philippines and dropped off at San Roque Hospital in Olongapo City at the age of one month.

At age 5, a Navy chief petty officer stationed in Subic Bay visited the orphanage with his wife and gained custody of young Pisano. Pisano left the Philippines with his newfound family to start a life in America.

"I really do believe I'm blessed. You see the orphanages and the street kids, and when I'm looking at them I'm seeing myself," said Pisano. "I get back on the ship and look at myself in the mirror and realize that's the situation I was pulled out of."

Pisano was officially adopted by now retired U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer Angelo Joseph Pisano at age 12 and had nothing but admiration for his adopted father.

"It's a very endearing relationship," said Pisano. "He's an amazing person. My dad has treated me like a son, blood or no blood, unconditionally showering me with love and care."

Pisano, now 47 years old, was offered a chance to visit his homeland during Frank Cable's scheduled port visit to Subic Bay, which is right next to the city where he was born.

While deployed, he began work on his enlisted surface warfare specialist qualification, participated in several community service programs and searched for any relatives that may still be in the area.

"This was a crazy opportunity because it's my first underway. For me to step back onto Filipino soil, it brings me full circle," said Pisano. "I want to do things for myself as far as investigating, but I also have 27 other shipmates that I care about, making sure they have a safe yearly training time. I don't want to say it was overwhelming, but it's just amazing that I get to do this."

The coincidence of a chance to visit his place of birth for a port visit was just one of several.

"I was adopted by an Italian-American family, then 42 years later, I'm going to the Philippines and I have an Italian-American chief with me," said Pisano. "There are a lot of little signs that everything's going in the right direction. Things are coming into place in a very special way."

For Pisano, a simple walk around Subic Bay was a remarkable experience that led to a better understanding of his heritage.

"Before it was like looking at a photograph," said Pisano. "You know what and where it is, but once you're there you understand it. You can feel the wind blowing; hear people talking; the way things taste; the way they smell."

Pisano brought his birth certificate and other documents to Subic Bay hoping to track down biological relatives. The search generated several leads that culminated in a meeting with a man who may be his biological father.

"He and I talked, and I struggled with whether to call him by his name or call him dad," said Pisano. "So I asked him what I should call him. He replied, 'Anything you want.' After a pause, I said 'Okay, tatay,' the Tagalog word for father. He smiled and embraced me."

Pisano plans to continue his search for blood relatives once he returns to his own family in America.

Pisano, whose last name means "friend" in Italian, said his search for relatives also led him to a family of a different kind.

"The people I've met in Olongapo have been very welcoming and willing to help," added Pisano. "The crew of Frank Cable has been very embracing, professionally and personally. I have everyone from officers, chiefs, seamen and everything in between asking me how I'm doing, and how my search is going.

"I've realized that 'family' can be anyone who accepts and loves you."

For Pisano, the whole experience was one he will cherish.

"You try to savor everything, take everything in. Sometimes it's like grasping water, the tighter you try to hold onto it, the faster it goes away," said Pisano. "I think I did well just being in each moment, experiencing all I could. I can't wait to share this experience with my family back home."

Frank Cable conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility.