Santiago “Sonny” Busa was born in Manila, on the Island of Luzon in the Philippines, in 1953. Both of his parents fought the Japanese occupation during World War II. After being liberated, his father joined the United States Navy, enlisting as a Steward (one of the few jobs open to minorities in the Navy at the time) and retiring as an E-7 twenty-one years later. Growing up in a military community, joining the service was natural for Sonny, and he was accepted to West Point. At the Academy, Sonny was a gymnast. At one meet, he remembers receiving congratulations for a “courageous performance,” and recalls thinking those are not the type of accolades one wants to receive in a very technical sport like gymnastics. During AOT (Army Orientation Training), he enjoyed Jungle School in Panama, and eventually returned there as a Platoon Leader. His time at the Academy was marked by the end of the Vietnam War (which led to teaching moments in many of his classes), the Class of ‘77 Honor Scandal that rocked the academy, and preparations for the admission of women beginning in the summer after his graduation. During his Firstie Year, he met his future wife when she visited the Academy as a nursing student. Upon commissioning, he became an Infantry Officer and was stationed in Panama for his first assignment. The most important lesson he learned as a young leader was to lead with empathy, and give orders with conviction. As a Captain, he commanded B Company in the 2nd Battalion of the 17th Infantry at Ft. Ord, California, where he learned the importance of logistics and maintenance. At this point in his career, he transitioned to become a Foreign Area Officer (FAO), and his first assignment was teaching Political Science in Spanish at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. As a FAO, he understood the importance of understanding language and culture, which would help later in his diplomatic career. In 1987, he left the military to pursue a career as a diplomat. Serving with the U.S. Department of State, he was assigned to Honduras, Hong Kong, Washington, D.C., and the Philippines. His career at State culminated with assignments as the Consul General in Kuwait and Ethiopia. For a year, he was a visiting professor at the United States Military Academy, where he taught in the department of Social Sciences. After retiring from the State Department, he taught at the Philippine Military Academy, and enjoyed being in front of a class full of “people that look like me.”
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his father’s service, and his time at West Point. He highlights several experiences during his military and diplomatic career, including meeting classmates at various diplomatic posts, serving in the “Hollow Army,” and being a diplomat in Hong Cong when the British returned that city to China. He discusses teaching at the Philippine Military Academy, and touches on Philippine History, including the story of the San Pedro Bell that used to be displayed outside the Catholic Chapel at West Point. Finally, he reflects on his service, West Point, and his three daughters carrying on the family tradition of service.