Acts of Bravery: Fighting Kamikazes and Saying "No" to Admiral Halsey

The U.S. Navy joins the nation in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Not long ago, one of our former staff members who served in the Navy donated to us his “Safari to Suez” certificate he earned while serving on USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93). This ship was named after the first Asian American to be promoted to admiral, and we are proud to recount his story here.

Commander Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon, 1945

Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on July 25, 1910. He was the fourth of five children born to William Chung-Hoon Jr., a Chinese-English-Hawaiian, and Agnes Punana, a Hawaiian. Chung-Hoon attended the United States Naval Academy where he starred on the football team as a halfback and punter. He helped Navy break an eleven-year winless streak against Army before graduating in 1934.

His assignments in the following years included two ill-fated ships that witnessed disaster in World War II. Chung-Hoon's first posting was to USS Indianapolis (CA-35) where he spent two years training with the Scouting Force. Indianapolis was infamously sunk by a Japanese submarine after delivering parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian in 1945. As a lieutenant, Chung-Hoon served on USS Arizona (BB-39). He was with the ship in December 1941 but had secured a pass in Honolulu on the morning of the 7th. Chung-Hoon heard the attack from the city and attempted to return to his ship, but Arizona exploded and sank before he could reach it.

USS Sigsbee (DD-502)

He served on destroyers and cruisers for the rest of the war, eventually receiving command of USS Sigsbee (DD-502) in May 1944. On April 14, 1945, while on radar picket station off Okinawa, Sigsbee and 7 accompanying destroyers were attacked by 20 kamikazes approaching from multiple directions. The sky was overcast, and the attacking planes were not spotted until they dropped below the low-level clouds. One aircraft scored a direct hit on Sigsbee which knocked out the ship’s port engine and steering control. Despite the damage, Commander Chung-Hoon kept his antiaircraft batteries firing at attackers while simultaneously directing damage control efforts. The damage was so severe that Admiral William Halsey, Jr. told Chung-Hoon to scuttle the ship. However, 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." Few commanders could get away with disobeying a direct order from an admiral, but Chung-Hoon was one of them.

The next day Chung-Hoon led a burial at sea for the twenty-three sailors who were killed during the attacks. One crew member 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." Thanks to his extraordinary leadership, Sigsbee remained afloat and eventually returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs.

Chung-Hoon received the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for his heroic performance in command of Sigsbee. He continued to serve in the Navy after the war and commanded USS John W. Thomason during the Korean War. Chung-Hoon retired in October 1959 after a twenty-five year career and was promoted to rear admiral upon retirement.

This Safari to Suez certificate was donated to the Naval War College Museum by our former collections manager, Mr. Walter Nicolds. The certificate is similar to a crossing the line certificate, but it indicates that the owner has successfully transited the Suez Canal.

USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) is an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer serving with the Pacific Fleet and homeported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Recent deployments to the 5th Fleet operational area have seen the ship operating closely with partner nations. In one instance, Chung-Hoon conducted three drug seizures and confiscated more than $5 million worth of illegal drugs bound for Yemen.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum


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