Commander Gordan P. Chung-Hoon
Captain USS SIGSBEE 14 May 1944 to 19 June 1945
Written by John R. Williams, Signalman Second Class, submitted December 9th 2000
Gordon P. Chung-Hoon came aboard the SIGSBEE in the month of May, 1944, while the ship was refurbishing in the Solomon Islands, after having operated as anti-submarine and fire support for the Sixth Army landings at Hollandia, New Guinea. She had come out to the Pacific in August, 1943, as part of the first new carrier Task Force 58 made up of the ESSEX, LEXINGTON, INDEPENDENCE, and others. In her first year, she had operated in both carrier strikes and amphibious landings at Marcus and Wake Islands, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Kavieng, and Hollandia. Gordon Chung-Hoon was a full Commander in the Regular United States Navy, and was the second of three such Commanders to command the ship from her commissioning on 23 January 1943, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to her de-activation at the Charleston S.C. Navy Yard on 7 November 1945. Commander Chung-Hoon left the SIGSBEE for a different command in June of 1945, when the ship arrived under tow in Pearl Harbor, after having been struck by a Kamikaze off Okinawa, 14 April 1945.
The undersigned was eighteen years of age and had been enlisted in the Regular United States Navy since 21 October 1941, and had attained the enlisted rating of Signalman Second Class, when he was assigned to the SIGSBEE in Brooklyn the day after the commissioning ceremony. My first 14 months in the Navy were taken up with Boot Camp at Norfolk, Virginia, graduation from the Naval Signal School at the University of Chicago with the rating of Petty Officer SM3/c, selection for Submarine School at New London, Connecticut, disqualification for chronic sinusitis, signal station duty at the New London anti-magnetic mine facility, and finally securing a transfer to the SIGSBEE.
Commander Chung-Hoon was certainly not without heavy combat experience before he came aboard SIGSBEE in May of 1944. He had graduated from Annapolis in 1934, and had been a well-known football player on the Naval Academy team. It was said that he was one of the few football players in history to be skilled in place-kicking and punting a football barefooted. On Dec. 7, 1941 he was a Lieutenant Commander on the battleship ARIZONA, berthed in Pearl Harbor, where she was viciously attacked, blown apart, and sunk by Japanese planes, with a loss of over 1,000 men. I am told that Commander Chung-Hoon was not on board at the time of the attack, he being a native of Honolulu, and being at his permanent home there. We all knew that he felt the tragedy of that event very deeply, but we also knew that it imbued him with an insuperable conviction and determination to serve and advance his country's cause in war, but always with coolness and without rancor or bitterness. Commander Chung Hoon served in 1942 on the cruiser HONOLULU, and saw some of the most violent action ever to occur anywhere at sea in the War, in the South Pacific and Solomon Islands, before he assumed command of the SIGSBEE.
Commander Chung-Hoon was of mixed Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry, but in appearance he was predominantly Hawaiian or Polynesian, with a trace of Oriental. He was of heavy-set build, and had a very strong booming voice. In command on the bridge he seldom used a megaphone, and couldbellow without one to near-by ships, and be heard the length of our ship. He always expected us signalmen or anyone else on the bridge to be able to yell out and be heard, but my modest British origins could never match his. His manner of speaking was completely American, as were his attitudes and customs in all things. There was noting "foreign" or "Oriental" about him in any way and I'm sure that all of the crew accepted and respected him as a person without much as to his ancestry. If he were "different" his differences were in the admirable and exceptional qualities he had as a Naval Officer in command of his ship and in command of himself, and learning essential to the mastery of a ship at sea with all of her complicated engineering, weapons, navigational and tactical equipment demanding co-ordinated control and skilled supervision at all times, which he always had. But, at the same time he called me "Willie" and called his officers by their first names, and passed out candies and cookies that his wife would send him.
Right after Commander Chung_Hoon assumed command, I remember SIGSBEE being ordered north to Kwajalein base to join the amphibious attack force for the invasion of the Mariannas Islands. Chung_Hoon was a skilled and cool leader during SIGSBEE'S bomdardment of the landing beaches at Guam, and her supervision of the Underwater Demolition Teams planting explosives in the reefs and obstacles at the landing beaches for 14 days before the landing. Then in September 1944, it was back to Hollandia to the massive invasion of the Philippines at Leyte in October. SIGSBEE screened the largest invasion force then seen in the Pacific War, with the heavy cruiser NASHVILLE embarking General Douglas MacArthur steaming all the way up on our starboard quarter.
At Leyte, SIGSBEE broke off from the main force and went south to a small adjoining island called Panoan, with a small force of four U.S Destroyers, one British minelayer, and three Australian transports loaded with the 21st Regimental Combat Team of the 24th U.S. Infantry Division. We leveled all our guns on the beach at dawn expecting a real rhubarb, but the Japs had evacuated to the North at night and the landing was unopposed, the troops were greeted by a huge crowd of Filipinos swarming onto the beach and carrying the soldiers out of the landing craft and partying all over the island. By evening all troops were ashore and we were ordered to evacuate the empty Australian transports at once. We were in the middle of Surigao Strait, but were 500 miles away toward Hollandia when the Jap Fleet arrived at the very spot of our landing. They were annihilated there by six of the very U.S. Battleships which had been sunk at Pearl Harbor three years before. Surigao Strait was the largest surface naval battle of the war and although we never fired a shot, Chung-Hoon was truly vindicated by the battleship action.
February of 1945 found the SIGSBEE with Carrier Task Force 58 off the coast of Japan attacking the Jap airfields, and battling gale force winds out of Siberia. In March came the "Divine Wind" of the Kamikaze suicide attacks in a desperate Jap effort to repel the Carriers and save their homeland. SIGSBEE steamed alone on a radar "picket" station 40 miles out from the main Carrier Force. Then the Japs decided that they had to knock out the destroyer radar pickets before they could get through to the carriers. Each picket station was then increased to three destroyers. By 14 April SIGSBEE was one of seven Fletcher Class DD's steaming on each picket station. We had some near misses but the magnificent performance of our Hellcat and Marine Corsair fighter pilots saved the day, for us, and the carriers off Okinawa.
At 1:54 p.m. our formation was attacked by an estimated 20 kamikazes from different directions. SIGSBEE was leading in the center ahead of two columns of three destroyers each. The sky was overcast and the attacking planes could not be seen until they dropped suddenly below the low-level clouds. The first came in and passed down our port side, crossed our stern, and grazed the ship leading the starboard column starting a fire. The next plane to appear came in on the starboard bow heading for SIGSBEE, but all our guns were trained to port for the first plane. Our 20 and 40 mm gun batteries could fire at him and hit him but the main battery's could not train around in time. These planes were fast new fighters and were carrying heavy bombs. The plane was aiming at our bridge, but winged over at the last minute and landed on our stern, on top of our depth charges and three 20 mm machine gun crews, as well as a repair party of about 13 men. There was a tremendous explosion which blew away about 50 feet of the stern and gutted and flooded the aft third of the ship. Everyone topside was blown off their feet. Smoke, dust, and clattering steel were everywhere. Everyone on the bridge was knocked down and some were hit by schrapnel. I was missed. We all scrambled to our feet. The ship had been moving at about 40 mph and the momentum carried it hundreds of yards away from a towering mass of smoke and debris reaching hundreds of feet into the air and from the churning sea with blast and wreckage. I heard Captain Chung-Hoon say, "Steady gang".
Our main battery radar control was knocked out, as well as two of the aft 5" guns. We had three 5" that could firre in local control only. All machine gun batteries were in local control, some retaining 'fone talker control. The six other destroyers formed a circle around us and all ships continued to fire at the remaining Japs who were coming in from all directions, they splashed into the water without hitting any of them. Within about five minutes all of the Japs were down and our fighters were swarming over the area. The Task Force remained on its northerly course and our picket station ships remained on their station and moved north with it. SIGSBEE for awhile was alone and dead in the water. She had no rudder and lost the port side propeller. She was settling by the stern and water was about a foot above the main deck. Her bow was sticking out of the water. Twenty-two men were killed and seventy five wounded.
At this point Captain Chung-Hoon left the bridge under command of the O.D. and wet aft. The signal crew had two wounded, but two watch. There was no visual signal traffic. I left the bridge and went aft to help if needed. I saw the Captain supervising the torpedo gang in training our and firing our five heavy torpedoes to lighten the ship. I saw the Captain chopping away with a fire axe at the drill loading machine on the gun deck and getting it thrown overboard to lighten the ship aft. I saw him go down a hatch in the deck aft which went into a machine shop called the "guinea pullman". That space adjoined the after solid bulkhead which sealed off the forwar two-thirds of the ship from the damaged after third. That bulkhead had to hold if the ship were to float. Someone had to enter that compartment to find out the damage and control it. I saw the Captain climb down through the hatch telling the repair crew to stand by on deck. In a few minutes his head emerged from the hatch and he ordered the repair crew to follow him down bringing tools and shoring timbers. The after solid bulkhead was shored and held. More wreckage was cut away and jettisoned. The settling in the water was reversed. The main deck aft came up about 3 feet out of the water and the ship's floating attitude was normalized.
After about two hours the cruiser Miami arrived on the scene and took SIGSBEE in tow and also took about 15 of our more seriously wounded men. She also sent over a doctor and medial supplies. Under her tow we moved south at about 5 knots. When night fell we could look to the north and see the brilliant gunflashes and tracers almost over horizon as Task Group One of Task Force 58 repelled another swarm of Kamikaze's.
The next day we were out of the Task Force's battle zone and of all things, a hefty tugboat appeared flying the flag of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She took over the tow from the Miami, who rejoined the Task Force. This tug was to tow us first to Guam, where we entered a floating drydock and had the aft portion of the ship sealed up with temporary welded patch or bulkhead, so that we could survive the long tow back to Pearl. We arrived at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard drydock on June 17 1945. All that time I slept in the open on the bridge, waking up during the frequent rain showers. My bunk and belongings were all incinerated in the aft crews' quarters in the blast. We were a sitting duck for two months for any Jap sub. The war ended when Truman made the decision to drop the Atomic Bomb. I didn't feel like arguing with him.
Also the next day after we were hit the Captain held a funeral and burial at sea for the four men whose bodies were found, (18 were missing in action). I saw that he was crying as he read. I didn't cry, nor did anyone else. I was afraid of being soft. I often remember that the only man tough enough not to duck, was also the only man tender enough to cry.