Corporal Joseph Pierce, a soldier in the Union Army who fought in both the Battle of Antietam and Gettysburg as a member of the 14th Connecticut Infantry, was one of the more than 50 Chinese-Americans who enlisted during the American Civil War. The tradition of service continued into the 20th century as the United States expanded as a global power on the world stage.
Fire Controlman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad of Filipino descent, became the first Asian-American to receive the Medal of Honor after rescuing two shipmates when an explosion occurred aboard the armored cruiser USS San Diego (ACR 6) in 1915. Risking his own life, Trinidad entered a smoke-filled fireroom and carried Sailors to safety before sustaining injuries from an explosion of the No. 3 boiler.
"For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession at the time of the boiler explosion on board the U.S.S. San Diego, 21 January 1915. Trinidad was driven out of fireroom No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up R.E. Daly, fireman, second class, whom he saw to be injured, and proceeded to bring him out. While coming into No. 4 fireroom, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fireroom, but without consideration for his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fireroom. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fireroom."
-Medal of Honor Citation
In the years since, 31 service members of Asian-American and Pacific Islander descent have received Medals of Honor.
Many Asian-Americans also distinguished themselves during World War II. One of the more than 200,000 Chinese-Americans to join was Cmdr. Gordon Chung-hoon. A Naval Academy graduate, Chung-hoon commanded the USS Sigsbee (DDG- 502), and received the Navy Cross for his leadership during a kamikaze attack aboard the destroyer in April 1945.
"Although his ship suffered major damage when struck by an enemy plane and all power was lost, Commander Chung-Hoon coolly carried out defensive maneuvers and directed his anti-aircraft batteries in delivering prolonged and effective fire against the continued heavy enemy air attack. Afterwards, he supervised damage-control procedures which resulted in his ship being made sea-worthy for a safe return to port under its own restored power. Commander Chung-Hoon's gallant fighting spirit, courage and unwavering devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
-Navy Cross Citation
In 2009, the guided missile destroyer USS Chung- Hoon (DDG 93) was named in his honor.