Gordon Pai’ea Chung-Hoon was born on the 25th of July, 1910, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a Hawaiian mother and a father of Hawaiian and Chinese descent. He graduated from high school in Honolulu in 1929, then went to a prep school in Maryland to prepare for college, and from there was accepted as the first Asian American to attend and to graduate from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD.
While attending the Naval Academy, Chung-Hoon played for the Naval Academy’s football team. For 11 years, the Naval academy had lost their matches to their arch-rivals at the United States Military Academy at West Point. But in their 1933 matchup, midshipman Chung-Hoon’s play helped to finally end that long losing streak.
Chung-Hoon graduated from the Naval Academy in 1934 and began his Navy career, which would extend over 30 years. He would see service in both WWII and in Korea.
In his early years, before WWII, Chung-Hoon served on the USS Indianapolis and the USS Dent, and he was on the crew list of the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. By a stroke of luck, he was enjoying a weekend liberty pass with his family at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack.
When the events of that day began, Chung-Hoon did everything he could to get back to the Arizona to be with his shipmates, but by the time he got there, the Arizona was already gone to the bottom. As you may remember, 1,177 of his crewmates went down with her on that fateful day.
By 1945, Chung-Hoon was commanding the USS Sigsbee (DD-502), a Fletcher Class destroyer. She was part of the large naval fleet involved in the Battle for Okinawa. She had participated in the efforts to neutralize the Japanese airfields on Okinawa before the landings would begin.
On the evening of the 14th of April, 1945, the USS Sigsbee came under attack from Japanese Kamikaze aircraft. She was hit on her stern and her number 5 gun by one of the Kamikaze planes. Her port engine was knocked out, the starboard engine could only be run at 5 knots, and her steering control was gone. She began taking on water and was in serious danger of sinking. Chung-Hoon was told to scuttle the ship, but he chose to continue the fight for his ship and against the enemy Kamikaze airplanes.
While Chung-Hoon directed damage control efforts to keep the USS Sigsbee afloat, at the same time he was directing his crew’s anti-aircraft fire against the Japanese planes. They fought so hard and with such accuracy that they were accredited with shooting down 20 more of the Kamikaze planes. For his actions in this battle at Okinawa, Chung-Hoon was awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.
After the battle was over, the USS Sigsbee was towed to Guam to be repaired enough to be towed back to Pearl Harbor. At Pearl, she had a completely new, 60-foot stern installed.
She was ready for sea again and set sail on the 28th of September, just a couple of weeks after the Japanese surrender. She was ordered to sail to Philadelphia, PA, and arrived there on the 22nd of October, 1945. Shortly thereafter, the USS Sigsbee was moved to Charleston to be prepared for deactivation. The USS Sigsbee was awarded 11 battle stars for her WWII service.
When the Korean War broke out, Chung-Hoon would command the USS John W. Thomason and one other destroyer. In 1959, he would achieve yet another first; he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, the first Asian American to have reached that rank in the United States military.
Admiral Gordon Pai’ea Chung-Hoon retired from the United States Navy in 1961 and became the Head of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Chung-Hoon died on the 24th of July, 1979, and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. An Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer has been commissioned in his name: the USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93). Its motto is (in Hawaiian: “Imua e na Koa Kai”) “Go Forward, Sea Warriors.”