STOCKTON - The memory of a Stockton Filipino community stalwart, who left a legacy in the world of martial arts and a storied military career, will be honored Saturday with a street named after him.
Manthey Road at the cross street of Yettner Road in French Camp has been renamed Leo Giron Drive after the World War II veteran and the founder of Bahala Na Martial Arts International studio in Stockton. Leo Giron Drive is near the site of a new veteran's hospital.
"When we talk about Filipino-American history, Stockton is at the center of it all, but we don't have a lot to symbolize that," said Dillon Delvo, executive director of the Little Manila Foundation. "We found out they were looking to rename some roads by the new VA Hospital, and Leo Giron was the first name that came to mind. So, we took the steps to get it done."
Giron was a first-generation Filipino to arrive in the United States in the 1920s. He died in 1999 at the age of 88 after living a storied life of military success, and for developing a now-popular adaptation of a centuries-old martial art called escrima.
During World War II, Giron was a technical sergeant who was handpicked by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to take part in an intelligence mission that led to the defeat of the Japanese military, Delvo said.
Giron's unit traveled by submarine behind enemy lines in the Philippines, and helped spy on the Japanese. The unit set up a system to communicate information to U.S. commanders. The intelligence gained in the mission led to the U.S. defeating Japanese forces with very few American casualties, Delvo said.
Giron was awarded two bronze stars for his efforts.
After his honorable discharge, Giron was granted U.S. Citizenship. He planted roots in San Joaquin County and worked at the Army Defense Depot in Tracy. He later opened a martial arts studio, Bahala Na Martial Arts International.
In the late 1960s, he moved the studio to Stockton, escrima Master instructor Joel Juanitas said.
"This is the home base for an international system," Juanitas said. "Leo Giron adapted traditional escrima with his experience in the service."
Escrima is a weapons-based martial art that specializes in using sticks, knives and machetes. Juanitas said the studio also teaches open-hand instruction.
Giron's adaptation of the art has spread and has been a featured tactic in Hollywood action films, Delvo said.
"One of Giron's former students opened a studio and is training people in Hollywood."
Matt Damon used escrima, for example, during fighting scenes in "The Bourne Identity," as did Denzel Washington in "The Book of Eli," Delvo said.
Delvo added that October is Filipino American History month.
Contact reporter Keith Reid at (209) 546-8257 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at www.recordnet.com/lodiblog.