Air Force Veteran Ellison Onizuka is today's Veteran of the Day.

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American to fly in space who later died on the space shuttle Challenger.

Ellison Onizuka was born June 24, 1946, in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii.  He graduated from Konawaena High School and earned his bachelor’s and master of science degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.

After receiving his commission, Onizuka entered active duty with the Air Force in January 1970. As an aerospace flight test engineer with the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, California, he participated in numerous flight test programs.

He attended the Air Force Test Pilot School from August 1974 to July 1975 and logged more than 1,700 hours flying time. He then served with the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as a flight test engineer and later as chief of the engineering support section.

Selected for the astronaut program in January 1978, Onizuka completed one year of evaluation and training. He worked on the experimentation team, the orbiter test team, and the launch support crew at Kennedy Space Center. At NASA, he worked at the Shuttle Avionics and Integrated Laboratory with the test and revision software team and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Onizuka’s first space mission took place on Jan. 24, 1985.  He served as a mission specialist. After 48 orbits around the Earth, the space shuttle Discovery landed at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 27, 1985. Onizuka had completed 74 hours in space, the first Asian American to fly in space.

He was assigned to the space shuttle Challenger that took off from Kennedy Space Center on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986. The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch when a flame jet leaking from a solid rocket booster ruptured the liquid hydrogen fuel tank. All seven crew members died.

Onizuka is interred at the National Memorial of the Pacific in Hawaii, Section D, Site 1.

We honor his service.

As it did last year, this year National Cemetery Administration is collaborating with Carry The Load for Memorial Day to honor fallen Veterans. Both NCA and Carry The Load are honoring select “Veterans of the Day” with remembrances on social media during May.

Nominate a Veteran for #VeteranOfTheDay

Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.

It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.


Writer: Jim Theres

Graphic artist: Steve Ellmore

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Published on May. 24, 2020

Estimated reading time is 2.2 min.

Views to date: 228


  1. Douglas Tennant May 29, 2020 at 11:13 pm

    Col. Ellison Onizuka was a true American hero. He was first and foremost a loving son, husband and father. He was beloved by his fellow astronauts. As a young man, he was an Eagle Scout and an outstanding pitcher with his brother Claude as his catcher. He never forgot his heritage as a Hawaiian and Asian American and he was proud of being a CU Buffalo. He and the rest of the crew of the Challenger will always represent the best of America.

  2. Senior Veterans Care Network May 25, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    We honor the service of Ellison Onizuka.

  3. Edwina Cain May 24, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    Ellison Onizuka’s Mother lived in the city of Kailua on the island of Oahu prior to his Challenger flight. My Girl Scout Troop was also from Kailua and his Mother gave us all kinds of signed information on and about him. It was such an honor and a privilege to be gifted with such awesome information. Unfortunately, my troop did not get to meet him as one would expect because he was extremely busy in 1983-84.
    After my troop graduated to a higher level, they were not interested in the information and I became the owner by default. I went active duty for ten years starting in 1985!
    Tragically, the prized information was stolen from me in 1997 by unscrupulous neighbors who’s son was AWOL from the Marines at the time and I had no idea. I allowed him to store some of his belongings in my basement which had a separate entrance from the house and to my surprise, I came home one day to an EMPTY basement!
    His mother was frantic and claimed to not have known that he was AWOL and apologized for all of my missing items, however, she didn’t offer to pay for them. Soon afterwards she was evicted, so I discovered that I had been rooked!!!!

  4. Lloyd Santee May 24, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    “Lest We Never Forget…”

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