By Carlota Ader
After three-and-a-half decades of service in the U.S. Coast Guard, Paul Tamayo is thriving once again in a new work environment, this time with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
For Tamayo, it all began when he joined the Coast Guard—the nation’s oldest continuous seagoing service. The Coast Guard’s responsibilities include search-andrescue, maritime law enforcement, aids to navigation, ice breaking, environmental protection, port security and military readiness. Tamayo has done all of the above and more during a memorable 35-year career, retiring as Senior Chief on July 1, 1995 but not before crisscrossing the world’s major oceans and waterways on numerous missions aboard 17 different Coast Guard cutters.
He has braved extreme cold and frigid temperatures aboard the icebreaker Eastwind on a two-year (1961- 1963) trip to Antarctica. A relic of World War II, the venerable Eastwind continued in service with the Coast Guard until she was decommissioned in 1968. Tamayo also ventured to the Arctic region aboard a second icebreaker, the Edisto, in 1968. In general, the missions of the icebreakers included supporting scientific explorations, conducting environmental and search and rescue missions and escorting warships and other vessels through the ice jammed waterways.
Realizing the value of the icebreakers, the Coast Guard is ambitiously modernizing its aging fleet to better patrol the polar regions, particularly as melting glaciers have opened up valuable shipping routes and access to resources that China and Russia are keenly interested in. Upgrading its icebreakers will ensure the U.S. has access to both polar regions and also support its economic, commercial and national security needs.
The USCG Years
Tamayo was born in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, the Philippines in November 1940. He decided to enlist in the Coast Guard in 1960 at the tender age of 19. He spent six months in boot camp and advanced steward training. His first assignment was aboard the Cutter Castle Rock that traveled to Europe with 50 cadets on board for two months. During his first 10 years, he served aboard six USCG cutters in a row, including the cutters Casco and Kukui. The Kukui, in particular, was a West Coast ship that served various long range navigation stations throughout the Pacific.
After taking some time for shore duty in Honolulu, Tamayo was assigned for several years aboard the buoy tenders Planetree and Mallow. Buoy tenders are vessels that maintain and replace navigational buoys, or aids to navigation (ATON), throughout Hawaii’s waters and the Pacific.
Out of his 35 years of service 10 years were spent on assignments in Hawaii. But he has also been assigned to Guam; Port Huron, Michigan; Traverse City, Michigan; Yorktown, Virginia; Miami, Florida; and Kodiak, Alaska.
Latin for “Always Ready,” Semper Paratus is the official motto of the U.S. Coast Guard—always ready for the next mission. The Coast Guard has a unique role in the U.S. armed forces. The Guard’s responsibilities include rescuing mariners in distress, being the first on the scene at potentially-explosive oil spills, breaking ice and preventing terrorist attacks.
And here in Hawaii, smack dab in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, the Coast Guard is essentially the search-and-rescue team for every inch of coastline and of the waters surrounding our state. In fact, the Coast Guard’s 14th District, which includes Hawaii, has the largest area of responsibility—covering more than 14 million square miles of land and sea. Units are based in Hawaii, American Samoa, Saipan, Guam, Singapore and Japan—and stretches from the Hawaiian Islands and across most of the Central and Western Pacific.
During Tamayo’s assignment aboard the Cutter Rush from 1992 to 1994, he had several opportunities to put the motto Semper Paratus to good use. One incident, in particular, stood out. The Rush intercepted a suspicious vessel in waters off Hawaii. Upon boarding the old cargo vessel, the Coast Guard crew found some 500 aliens from the People’s Republic of China. Tamayo played a key role in the planning and preparation of meals for the desperate and suffering aliens in the dangerously overcrowded boat.
“I went aboard and took charge of getting a filthy and inoperable galley clean and providing life sustaining food for the people aboard,” he said. The Coast Guard was able to get the old ship seaworthy and steered it to shore. Looking back at the incident, Tamayo is proud of the way the Coast Guard crew managed the difficult task of enforcing the law without violating the dignity of the people they encountered.
In fact, Tamayo was recognized for meritorious service in performance of his duty as Food Service Officer in which he demonstrated exBy Carlota Ader ceptional leadership and managerial skills. He was loved for one particular skill set.
“I made incredibly spicy soups that were loved by the crew,” he said.
In fact, his expert culinary talents made him the man in demand for not only dinners aboard the Cutter Rush, but also at receptions held at the Fourteenth District Flag Quarters, change of command ceremonies and other gala events.
By the time he retired, Tamayo had racked up a number of awards including the Navy League Enlisted Person of the Year, Command Enlisted Advisor, two Coast Guard Commendation medals, a Coast Guard Achievement medal, two Coast Guard Unit Commendations, three Meritorious Unit commendations, a Bicentennial Unit commendation, a Commandant’s Letter of Commendation ribbon, two National Defense Service medals, an Antartica Service medal, an Arctic Service medal, a Humanitarian Service medal, a USCG Sea Service Ribbon and 10 Good Conduct medals.
One of his awards extols Tamayo for “incorporating old time Coast Guard spit and polish with today’s technology to enhance espirit de corps.” Another reads “His dedication and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the Coast Guard.”
Fresh Start With USDA
Not long after his retirement, Tamayo began feeling the itch to work. Perseveranda, his wife of 53 years, says her husband is a total workaholic.
“He doesn’t want to stay home because it’s boring for him,” says Perseveranda. “I cannot stop him from working. Even the kids tell him to slow down but he told us that he’s born to work.”
Four months after the end of his decorated Coast Guard career, Tamayo began another job, this time with the USDA as an Agriculture Inspector Technician. His duties include making sure that businesses comply with federal laws and regulations that govern the health, quality and safety of meat, poultry, egg products, fruits and vegetables.
For the most part, he is assigned to the airport where he conducts pre-flight inspections of passengers’ baggage. The restrictions on the movement of fruits, plants, snails and other items are essential in preventing the spread of fruit flies and other hazardous plants, insects and diseases to and from the mainland, which are detrimental to the state’s agriculture industry and the environment.
He has occasionally been assigned to several USDA locations on mainland.
For now, coping with the effects of the COVID-19 virus has impacted his daily routine, which no longer includes going to Starbucks for his latte. Instead, he frequently visits grocery stores for food and household supplies, including wipes and disinfectants.
He advises the public to heed the advice of local and national health officials.
“Make sure you follow the social distancing guidelines,” he said. “And take extra precautions to keep you and your family safe and healthy, especially if you are still working and have the potential to bring it home.”
True to his workaholic nature, Tamayo keeps his inspection skills sharp by examining the various fruits in his backyard.
“At home, we have an orchard of different varieties of plants and vegetables,” he said. “So it’s just like I’m at work where I check fruits, vegetables and other products that passengers bring with them to the airport.”
Tamayo and Perseveranda have three children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. For all of his career and work accomplishments, Tamayo’s greatest achievement is raising his three children who are now successful in their respective fields.
All three—Apollo, Venus and Mars—are named after Roman deities, but the truth is that while Perseveranda was pregnant, she read several books about outer space and astronauts and decided to name her children accordingly.
Apollo, the eldest, was born in the Philippines during the launch of the Apollo 15 spacecraft to the moon.
“He’s lucky we did not name him Apollo 15,” she joked. “His full name is Paul Apollo but we call him Apollo at home.”
Apollo received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and is a licensed CPA. He currently works as a training coordinator with the Hawaii Carpenters Apprenticeship & Training Fund.
He remembers his dad being a very good provider who also helped with daily household chores.
“I remember that my dad would always make sure that we had food to eat on the table,” Apollo recalls. “He cooked meals for us or took us out to eat. I also remember him keeping our house clean which has rubbed off on me. I always make sure that my own house is clean and tidy.”
Venus Melanie and Leo Mars, who are now living in Las Vegas, Nevada, recall their dad’s favorite breakfast which usually consisted of homemade pandesal with spam and scrambled eggs.
“I remember going to Coast Guard and Pangasinan community parties on the weekends,” says Venus, who works at a veterans’ hospital in Las Vegas. “He taught us to always work hard, take good care of our families, respect our elders and to treat others in the way that we want to be treated.”
She graduated from Leeward Community College and also earned a certificate from Med-Assist School of Hawaii.
Mars graduated from UH-Manoa with a nursing degree and works as a registered nurse in Las Vegas. He remembers his dad always being there to pick him up at school whenever he wasn’t feeling well.
“I felt so proud of him when he’d show up wearing his Coast Guard uniform, like Top Gun,” he says. “Then he’d take me to McDonalds afterwards.”
Apollo says that his dad is still the glue that holds the family together. In fact, Tamayo makes it a habit to regularly visit Venus and Mars in Las Vegas.
“I think keeping our family close together, even though we live apart, is the greatest thing he has done for us,” he says.
All three siblings are forever grateful to their dad for his love and support over the years.
“Happy Father’s Day to you Dad and thank you for all that you’ve done for us and your encouragement in the endeavors that we have undertaken,” says Apollo. “We love you!”