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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, September 16, 2004

USS Chung-Hoon at home in Pearl Harbor

 •  Photo Gallery

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

FORD ISLAND — The sea stories began the minute Alois J. Pohl boarded the USS Chung-Hoon, Pearl Harbor's newest destroyer, and he found a mooring post to sit on and rest his 80-year-old stooped frame.

Rear Adm. Gordon Pai'ea Chung-Hoon

• Born 1910 in Honolulu. Died 1979.

• Chinese, Hawaiian and English ancestry.

• Graduated 1934 from U.S. Naval Academy, where he gained national acclaim as a halfback and barefoot punter.

• Officer on battleship USS Arizona, but was off ship during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.

• Awarded Navy Cross and Silver Star for actions as commanding officer of the USS Sigsbee.

"A (sailor) wanted to bring a baboon with him," Pohl recalled yesterday of his days on a troop transport off the coast of Africa early during World War II. "Of course the officer of the deck said no way, and I was on watch, too, so I pulled my .45 and told him, 'No way that baboon is going to get on this ship.' "

But his most riveting story — indeed the most dramatic story that all of Pohl's shipmates would tell — was of the Japanese kamikaze that came at the destroyer USS Sigsbee on April 14, 1945, skimming 15 feet off the water and exploding into the fantail.

"The shudder of it was enough to make you sick," Pohl said.

The blast killed 23 sailors and crippled the Sigsbee, but its skipper, Cmdr. Gordon Pai'ea Chung-Hoon, refused to scuttle the ship, a move that would have forced its crew into the seas off the Japanese island of Kyushu.

Instead, the Honolulu native and Naval Academy football star kept his anti-aircraft batteries delivering "prolonged and effective fire" against the continuing air attack while directing damage control efforts, the Navy said.

Chung-Hoon was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary heroism as commanding officer of the Sigsbee. He died in 1979.

Yesterday, 17 of the crew members — one in a wheelchair, Pohl using a cane, and with gray hair peeking out from USS Sigsbee baseball caps — toured the new destroyer named after their former skipper. Several commissioning bashes are planned this weekend and next week.

WWII veteran Alois J. Pohl walks on the helicopter deck of the USS Chung-Hoon, named after Rear Adm. Gordon Pai'ea Chung-Hoon.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Marvin Green, 76, an enlisted man on gun mount No. 45 on the Sigsbee, credits Chung-Hoon with saving his life. Adm. William F. "Bull" Halsey had told Chung-Hoon to sink the damaged ship, Green said.

"We were in bad trouble, slowly but surely sinking, and we kept working to stop the flooding," Green said. "He (Chung-Hoon) told Adm. Halsey, 'No, I have kids on here that can't swim and I'm not putting them in the water. I'll take her back.' And he did."

The Sigsbee's sister ship towed the destroyer until its line parted. The cruiser Miami picked up the task, towing Sigsbee all night under fire, said Pohl, who lives in Arizona.

The ship eventually limped into Pearl Harbor at 5 knots.

The new $1 billion destroyer Chung-Hoon will be "brought to life" Saturday at Ford Island in a rare ship-commissioning here that's been made all the more important because it celebrates a local man of Chinese, Hawaiian and English heritage who became a hero of World War II and retired as a rear admiral.

Born in Honolulu in 1910, Chung-Hoon went to Punahou and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1934. The son of a treasurer for the territory of Hawai'i, Chung-Hoon was state director of agriculture and conservation during Gov. William F. Quinn's administration.

Besides Saturday's commissioning with 3,500 invited guests, about 500 people are expected for commanding officer Cmdr. Kenneth L. Williams Jr.'s reception tomorrow on the battleship USS Missouri, and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce is holding a reception for 600 crew and families on Sept. 26 in Chinatown.

Williams, who accepted some old photos and other Sigsbee mementos from the veterans, told the group: "You went many thousands of miles through your journey in a very trying time in very dangerous waters. We've only gone 7,513 miles, but these young men and women of Chung-Hoon have a better appreciation of what it takes to go to sea."

Green, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., and is president of the USS Sigsbee reunion group, will be remembering his former ship and its strict but fair skipper.

"If you have a man you not only acknowledge saved your life by his actions, but you acknowledge that you respect this man and know that he was a brother in arms, it's the greatest thing in the world to have this ship named Chung-Hoon," Green said.

The cruiser Lake Erie and destroyer O'Kane also were commissioned in Hawai'i — the O'Kane most recently in 1999.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.

• • •

John Epp serves lunch to Chuck Edwards and wife Ann, aboard the USS Chung-Hoon. Edwards, Judice Lewis, left, and other former crewmen skippered by Gordon Chung-Hoon were special guests yesterday.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

In April 1945, the USS Sigsbee was crippled by a kamikaze attack but its skipper, Cmdr. Gordon Chung-Hoon, refused to scuttle it. He later was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star for heroism.

Associated Press library photo

Cmdr. Kenneth Williams Jr., commanding officer of the USS Chung-Hoon, looks over photos given to him by special guest Alois J. Pohl.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Navy's newest Arleigh Burkeiclass destroyer, the USS Chung-Hoon, will be "brought to life" Saturday at Ford Island in one of few ship-commissioning ceremonies ever conducted in Hawai'i.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser