As the USS Chung-Hoon is underway in the Pacific and relaying these extraordinary photos from its decks, readers are asking why an American ship would be called Ching-Hoon?
This guided-missile destroyer was named in honor of Rear Admiral Gordon Pai’ea Chung-Hoon (1910–1979), recipient of the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.
He served during World War II and was the first Asian American flag officer and was awarded for conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary heroism as commanding officer of USS Sigsbee from May 1944 to October 1945.
He was born in Honolulu, his father, a Chinese-English-Hawaiian, was a county treasurer, and his mother was a member of Princess Victoria Kamāmalu’s civic club The Kaʻahumanu Society.
In 1934, Chung-Hoon became the first Asian-American, U.S. citizen to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy where, as the football team’s halfback and punter, he helped break Army’s 11-year winning streak against Navy.
As a lieutenant on the battleship USS Arizona, he cheated death. On a weekend pass in Honolulu, he missed the attack on Pearl Harbor and, by the time he raced back, the ship had sunk.
From May 1944 to October 1945 Chung-Hoon commanded the destroyer USS Sigsbee. In the spring of 1945, Sigsbee destroyed 20 enemy planes while screening an aircraft carrier strike force off the Japanese island of Kyūshū.
On April 14, 1945, while on radar picket station off Okinawa, a kamikaze crashed into Sigsbee, knocking out the ship’s port engine and steering control and reducing her starboard engine to five knots.
Commander Chung-Hoon kept his antiaircraft batteries delivering “prolonged and effective fire” against the continuing Japanese air attack while simultaneously directing the damage control efforts that allowed Sigsbee to make port under her own power, according to a profile in The Honolulu Advertiser.
The damage had been severe enough that Admiral William Halsey, Jr. told Chung-Hoon to scuttle the ship. Chung-Hoon refused, telling the admiral “No, I have kids on here that can’t swim and I’m not putting them in the water. I’ll take her back.”
The next day, he led a burial at sea for the dead. One crewmate said of Chung-Hoon during the burial, “I often remember that the only man tough enough not to duck, was also the only man tender enough to cry,” according to a sailor’s testimony.
He later served in the Korean War as Commander of the destroyer USS John W. Thomason as part of the 7th Fleet. Then he served as captain of the guided missile testing ship USS Norton Sound between July 1956 and August 1957 before being subsequently transferred to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C., his final Navy post.
In 1961, the first Governor of the State of Hawaii, William F. Quinn, appointed Admiral Chung-Hoon to be the director of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. He made a foray into politics by running as a Republican for one of the four seats representing the Hawaii 7th State Senate District in 1966, but finished fifth in the primary.
Chung-Hoon died on July 24, 1979 at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.
This Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, commissioned in 2004, was named for him.