In 1962, Kwang-Ping Hsu became the first foreign-born graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA). He had started out life in 1936 in the province of Shandong (also known as Shantung) in eastern China. His father was a professor of pathology at Beijing University. Kwang-Ping Hsu grew up during the brutal Japanese occupation of that region of China during what is now known as the Second Sino-Japanese War (a bloody military conflict that soon became a major part of World War II), and he and his family ultimately fled Beijing for the comparative safety of the city of Kunming in southwestern China.
At around the time that World War II ended in 1945, Hsu’s father emigrated from China to the United States to teach at the University of Virginia. He was joined in Charlottesville, Virginia, a couple of years later by Hsu, his sister, and their mother. As the only Asian children in Charlottesville at the time, Kwan-Ping Hsu and his sister were subjected to derogatory nicknames and other forms of racism by their classmates. With great drive and determination, however, he eventually began to overcome that discriminatory treatment by excelling in both academics and athletics. Hsu earned high grades, for example, and won additional praise as a formidable soccer player.
Hsu’s test scores, along with his similarly exemplary accomplishments both in the classroom and on the soccer field, led to his being accepted for admission to the USCGA. Hsu’s pioneering status as the first foreign-born cadet at that institution was underscored when, while filling out his application, he had to scratch out the word “state” in the place-of-birth section and replace it with “Country: China.” While Hsu encountered racism to some extent during his years as a cadet, his overall experience at the USCGA was highly positive.
After graduating from the USCGA, Hsu reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida for flight training. He successfully completed that training and went on to fly various types of fixed-wing, amphibian, and rotary-wing aircraft for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). His friend and fellow USCG pilot Montgomery “Mont” Smith recalled, “I think he loved flying whatever the Coast Guard had and truly appreciated being in a service that allowed him to do that.”
Hsu took part in numerous air rescue efforts during his long and eventful military career. In addition, he served as a helicopter detachment commander for icebreakers in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Hsu also served as commander of Coast Guard Air Station Washington in Arlington, Virginia, and in that capacity he routinely flew the USCG’s Gulfstream executive jet to transport commandants and government officials to meetings and other events. Hsu was commander of Coast Guard Air Station Washington when an Air Florida 737 plane crashed into the Potomac River in 1982, and he oversaw the search-and-rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of that disaster.
As a key part of his last tour of duty, Hsu was the USCG’s liaison to the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the First Gulf War in 1990-91. He retired from the USCG in 1992. Hsu died 15 years later at the age of 71 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His son David has noted, “Dad always viewed his life as nothing less than extraordinary—a journey beyond any he could have imagined due to the opportunities of America and the Coast Guard.”
For more information on Kwang-Ping Hsu, please check out https://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2017/05/the-long-blue-line-capt-kwang-ping-hsu/
Additional information on Asian American pioneers in the USCG is available at https://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2018/05/tlbl-asian-american-history-of-the-coast-guard/