Susan Ahn Cuddy: The Navy’s First Female Gunnery Officer

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May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The following story continues our month-long focus on Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans.

The daughter of the first married Korean couple to immigrate to the United States, Susan Ahn Cuddy grew up hearing about her father An Chang-ho’s fight to free Korea from Japanese imperialism.

When World War II began, Cuddy was determined to help the United States in any way she could, becoming the first Asian-American woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1942 as a member of WAVES (Women Accepted for Emergency Volunteer Service) — despite first being rejected because of her race.

She soon became the Navy’s first female gunnery officer. Cuddy also worked as a combat air tactics instructor, training naval personnel before they deployed and as a Navy codebreaker.

As a young, Asian-American woman training men, she often faced discrimination because of both her sex and her race. But she quickly gained recognition for her skill as an instructor.

“It was funny because she was tiny,” her son Philip Ahn Cuddy later said in an interview. “She would have to really contort herself to pull back on the firing mechanisms to load the machine gun.”

Cuddy was determined to help the United States in any way she could, becoming the first Asian-American woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1942 as a member of WAVES (Women Accepted for Emergency Volunteer Service) — despite first being rejected because of her race.

On Sept. 2, 1945, Japan officially surrendered, ending World War II and breaking Korea free from Japan’s rule and occupation. Cuddy’s father’s dreams of Korean independence were finally realized. He eventually became a national hero in South Korea.

Cuddy left the Navy in 1946. In her waning days with Navy intelligence, she met Chief Petty Officer Francis Cuddy, an Irish American code-breaker who also worked on matters pertaining to Korea’s independence. The two fell in love and married in April 1947.

As a civilian, Cuddy worked as an intelligence analyst and section chief at the National Security Agency and ran a think tank during the Cold War. She worked on top secret projects for the Defense Department and supervised more than 300 scholars and experts in Russian affairs.