By John R. Desselle, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
Asian American and Pacific Islander Sailors, past and present, contribute to the strength of our force and the defense of our nation. May, designated as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, is an opportunity for us to celebrate their contributions and the diversity within the Navy. In 1990, a bill was pass by Congress and signed by President Bush to extend Asian-American Heritage Week to a month. On May 1, 2009, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation which recalls the challenges faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and celebrates their great and significant contributions to our society. Below are a few notable and prominent Sailors within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and the impact they made to naval history. We are very grateful and proud of all our Asian and Pacific Islanders who served and still serve in the U.S. Navy.
Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon
Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon became the first Asian American, U.S. citizen, to graduate from the academy on May 1934. He served during World War II and was the first Asian American flag officer. He is a recipient of the Navy Cross and Silver Star for extraordinary heroism as commanding officer of USS Sigsbee from May 1944 to October 1945. He served 25 years in the U.S. Navy and retired as an Admiral. Admiral Gordon Paiʻea Chung-Hoon died July 24, 1979 at aged 68.
Susan Ahn Cuddy
Susan Ahn Cuddy joined the Navy in 1942 after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. She was the first Asian-American woman to join the U.S. Navy and became the first female to operate flexible-mount or turret-mounted machine guns on an aircraft in the Navy. She left the Navy in 1946 at the rank of Lieutenant. Even in her elder years, Susan remained active, speaking at Navy functions and Korean American community events. She died at her home June 24, 2015 at aged 100 in Northridge, California.
Sunita Lyn “Suni” Williams
Sunita Lyn “Suni” Williams is an American astronaut and United States Navy officer of Indian-Slovenian descent. She holds the records for total spacewalks by a woman (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes). Williams was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33. Captain, USN, Sunita Lyn “Suni” Williams celebrated her 50th birthday on September 19th, 2015
Dr. Tem E. Bugarin
Dr. Tem E. Bugarin was born in Bay-Bay Leyte, Philippine Islands in 1946 and raised in Stockton, California. He became the first Filipino American to command a Navy warship, USS Saginaw (LST 1188), in August 1989. He is now a retired Navy Captain who is a scientist with SPAWAR Systems Command, San Diego, CA.
Connie Mariano was not only the first Filipino-American to become a Rear Admiral in the US Navy, she also was the first female director of the White House Medical Unit, as well as the first military woman to be appointed as the White House Physician. Dr. Mariano retired from the Navy in June 2001 after 24 years with the rank of Rear Admiral and joined the Mayo Clinic of Scottsdale, Arizona. Since then, she has founded the Center for Executive Medicine, a concierge medical service in North Scottsdale, Arizona.
Robert Kihune commanded a guided missile destroyer that conducted nightly strikes against North Vietnam while successfully dodging hundreds of rounds of enemy fire without sustaining damage. He also was awarded a Legion of Merit with a combat “V” for gallantry. He retired in 1994 after 35 years of distinguished service, with the rank of Vice Admiral. He was the first Hawaiian Vice Admiral.
Ming Chang served 34 years in the U.S. Navy and became the first naturalized Asian American naval officer to reach flag rank in the United States Military. He is the recipient of the Legion of Merit (Combat V) and Bronze Star (Combat V) medals. He retired in 1990 with the rank of Rear Admiral. Upon leaving the Navy, Chang became vice president and corporate director for the Pacific region at Raytheon International, and then president of MEC International, LLC.
Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander decent, have proven to be great leader and have made great contributions to the our U.S. Navy as well as to the United States of America. Our Navy reflects the nation we serve and is strengthened by the diversity of our people. We are delighted to honor and celebrate this month as the Asian and Pacific Islander month.