Asian American war heroes deserve special admiration
In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I am highlighting two Asian American service members who served with honor, integrity and dedication without thought for their own safety. In most cases, Asian Americans were fighting for a country that treated them and their families as second-class citizens. A week after Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan, Asian American families (especially Japanese Americans) were classified as 4-C undesirable aliens, ostracized and moved into internment camps for “their safety.”
During this time, many Asian Americans were separated from their families, lost their homes, jobs, businesses along with hope and their freedom. Despite this and the turbulent time, many were willing to enlist to protect a nation that offered racial slurs, physical or mental abuse and death threats.
Asian American war heroes deserve special admiration. Rather than letting that diminish their sense of duty, they saw the winning of honor and respect for ALL Asian Americans as the best reason to go into every fight. The Asian American war heroes featured here are representative of those who distinguished themselves with gallantry during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Capt. Daniel K. Inouye, U.S. Army:
In 1943, Inouye, who served as a medical volunteer during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, joined the Army after the service dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans.
He volunteered to be part of an army unit made up of second-generation Japanese Americans called the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In 1944, Sgt. Inouye was promoted to 2nd lieutenant for his heroism during a two-week battle in France. During the battle, an enemy bullet struck him in the chest directly above his heart, but the bullet was stopped by the two silver dollars he had stacked in his shirt pocket. He kept those silver dollars as good luck.
On April 21, 1945, Inouye led his platoon in an attack on a ridge near San Terenze, Italy. The ridge served as a strongpoint along the strip of German fortifications known as the Gothic Line. Three well-sheltered machine-gun nests defended the approach with crossfire.
Inouye crawled up the slope to within five yards of one nest and destroyed it with two grenades. He then rose to attack a second nest. He was hit by sniper fire but continued his assault on the remaining nest until his right arm was shattered by a grenade blast. He refused evacuation and continued directing his men until the ridge was secured. His arm was amputated in field hospital.
Inouye was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery during this battle. It was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton.
Inouye spent 20 months in an Army hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was discharged honorably as captain in 1947 and went on to attend the University of Hawaii, later earning a law degree from George Washington University. After serving as a deputy DA for the city of Honolulu, he was elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives in 1954. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 where he stayed until his death on Dec. 17, 2012.
Rear Admiral Gordon P. Chung-Hoon, U.S. Navy:
He was honored for conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary heroism as commander of the USS Sigsbee during two battles in the spring of 1945. During this time, the Sigsbee helped shoot down 20 Japanese fighters while screening a carrier strike force off Kyushu, Japan. In April 1945, the Sigsbee suffered a crippling kamikaze strike off Okinawa. The destroyer’s port engine and steering control were disabled. Rather than order an evacuation, Chung-Hoon rallied his men to maintain highly effective anti-aircraft fire while performing repairs to enable the ship to limp to port.
At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Chung-Hoon was part of USS Arizona crew. Chung-Hoon commanded the Sigsbee from May 1944 to October 1945. He retired from the Navy in 1959 and was appointed by Hawaii’s first-elected governor to serve as director of the State Department of Agriculture. He died in July 1979. An Aegis guided-missile destroyer named in Chung-Hoon’s honor was commissioned on Jan. 11, 2003.
It was an honor researching Asian American service members and the dedication and honor they brought and continue to bring to our military community and families. I thank you all for your sacrifices.
Blessings from my family to yours,