Today in Asian American Pacific Islander Transportation History – May 14: Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon

In the midst of World War II, U.S. Navy Commander Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon (1910-1979) took over command of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Sigsbee in the Pacific Theater. Chung-Hoon, who was born in Honolulu to a Chinese-English-Hawaiian father and a Hawaiian mother, had made history in 1934 as the first person to be both an Asian-American and U.S. citizen to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA).

During his time at USNA, Chung-Hoon also distinguished himself as the football team’s champion halfback. He brought that same blend of strength and determination to his role as commander of Sigsbee. “He was of heavy-set build, and had a very strong booming voice,” recalled John R. Williams, signalman second class on board Sigsbee, in a 2000 interview. “In command on the bridge, he seldom used a megaphone and could bellow without one to nearby ships, and be heard the length of our ship.”

Nearly a year after assuming command of Sigsbee – and with the war in the Pacific still raging on – Chung-Hoon faced a crucial test of his leadership when a Japanese kamikaze aircraft slammed into the ship off the coast of Okinawa. Among other things, this attack knocked both the ship’s port engine and steering control out of commission. Chung-Hoon, however, still managed to respond effectively to the brutal assault. He ensured that Sigsbee’s anti-aircraft batteries continued hammering away at overhead Japanese planes. Chung-Hoon also oversaw damage-control efforts on Sigsbee that allowed the ship to remain seaworthy and ultimately make her way to a safe port.

Due to the severe damages incurred by Sigsbee, Chung-Hoon was initially directed by Admiral William Halsey, Jr., to scuttle the ship then and there. Chung-Hoon declined to do so.  “No, I have kids on here that can’t swim and I’m not putting them in the water,” he responded. “I’ll take her back.”

Chung-Hoon subsequently led a burial at sea for those who had been killed during the attack. Williams recounted, “I often remember that the only man tough enough not to duck was also the only man tender enough to cry.”

Chung-Hoon’s leadership throughout that time proved to be a pivotal part of his longtime naval career, and he received both the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for his heroism as commander of Sigsbee. His Navy Cross citation included the following: “Commander Chung-Hoon’s gallant fighting spirit, courage and unwavering devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Chung-Hoon also saw military action during the Korean War just a few years later. He retired from the Navy in 1959 as a rear admiral.

Additional information on Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon, including his service as commander of USS Sigsbee, is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Chung-Hoon.

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