What would make Susan Ahn, a young college graduate, join the military following the Pearl Harbor attack? A daughter’s wish to honor her father.
Ahn’s parents, Dosan Ahn Chang Ho and Helen Ahn, were the first married couple to immigrate to the United Stated from Korea on October 14, 1902 prior to the Japanese annexation of Korea on August 29, 1910. The Japanese tried to eradicate the Korean language and much of the country’s culture.
Her father, Dosan Ahn, was a prominent Korean leader who had led opposition organizations against the Japanese. When her parents immigrated to the United States, they opened their home as headquarters for the Young Korean Academy and taught leadership skills for Korean immigrants.
While Helen Ahn raised their five children, all born in California, Dosan Ahn made several trips back to Korea, as well as to China, where he led Korean independence activist movements. In 1926, he left California for the last time. After being arrested and imprisoned for his anti-Japanese activism, Dosan Ahn died on 10 March 1938 while in captivity.
During his rare times back in America, Dosan Ahn stressed to his children to embrace being the best American citizens they could be, but to never forget their Korean heritage. Young Susan Ahn often worked in her father’s independence movement organizations. It was her father who encouraged the freethinking and independence that allowed the first-generation American to break from tradition.
Three years after her father’s death, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. By June 1942, the ranks of the military had been opened to women through the WAVES program. Susan Ahn embraced the opportunity to fight the Japanese that had imprisoned her father. Two of her brothers also joined the military. Phil Ahn joined the Army and Ralph Ahn joined the Navy.
“We were always told how lucky we were to be born in a free country,” Susan Ahn Cuddy later said of her decision to do her part in fighting the Japanese, just as her father had. On 2 September 1945, when the Japanese officially surrendered, it also ended their rule and occupation of Korea.
Ahn overcame many racial barriers both personally and professionally to serve in the U.S. Navy. When she joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program in 1942, she continued her family’s tradition as trailblazers in their adopted country. On 9 May 2015, the former Lieutenant Ahn, at 100 years old, spoke at the National Museum of the Seabees (Port Hueneme, California) about her military and government service experience.
“We cannot thank Mrs. Cuddy enough for sharing her and her family’s unique experiences. We are humbled and honored,” said Lara Godbille, Ph.D, museum director. “It is important to honor our national naval heritage with a member of the surrounding community who has become such a distinguished aspect of naval history.”
After she graduated from San Diego State College, the 27-year-old Ahn was rejected the first time she applied to the WAVES because of her race, about the same time the United States was placing more than 127,000 U.S. residents of Japanese heritage into internment camps.
Undaunted, she reapplied and was accepted. The Navy sent her to the flight-simulating Link Trainer program in Georgia where she taught air combat tactics to future naval pilots, an experience she remembered as “wonderful.” From there she went to Pensacola, where she became the first woman gunnery officer. After being assigned to Atlantic City Naval Air Station, Ahn trained naval aviators to fire a .50-caliber machine gun.
“The Navy was good to me…I never had a problem serving and that’s why I love America” said Cuddy.
Following her stint as a gunnery officer, Lieutenant Ahn worked at the U.S. Naval Intelligence Office. She recalled one supervisor who refused to allow her near classified documents because of her race.
At the Naval Intelligence Office she met fellow code-breaker Francis X. Cuddy, an Irish-American chief petty officer who spoke fluent Japanese. The couple married on 25 April 1947 at a Navy chapel in Washington, D.C., because laws in Virginia, where they lived, banned interracial marriages. Both husband and wife worked for the National Security Agency during the Cold War, where Susan Cuddy was an intelligence analyst and section chief. Her husband, Chief Francis Cuddy, served in the Navy for 33 years.
The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1959 to raise their children and win her mother’s acceptance of her marriage. Cuddy stated that the best way “to get your relatives to accept your mixed-race marriage is to have kids.”
Susan Ahn Cuddy was the first Asian-American in the WAVES, the first female gunnery officer in the U.S. armed forces, the first Asian-American woman to work in naval intelligence, and the first Asian-American woman to be a codebreaker and section chief in the National Security Agency.
20 March 2023 at 13:00
Mario, There is a logical inconsistency in the second paragraph. How can someone migrate in 1902 because of an event that happened in 1910…..? Were they clairvoyant? I checked the date of the Japanese invasion of Korea, it was 1910, so it is not a typo, as I suspected (1901?….nope, it was 1910.) Cheers, Guy 😉 ⚓✈️🛰️🔱
LikeLiked by 1 person
20 March 2023 at 19:08
A most interesting story, Mario! Mrs. Cuddy’s brother, Phil, is, perhaps, one of the best known Korean-American actors (and a longtime favorite of mine). He’s played Koreans, Chinese and Japanese in many different movies. “Phil” Ahn is usually seen in movie and TV credits as Philip Ahn.
Our country’s history is rooted in the fact we’ve been a “melting pot” of the world since we became a country. The Ahn’s are a true American success story!
I greatly appreciate Station HYPO’s salute to women this month, Mario! Thank you very much.
1 May 2023 at 19:05
Thanks for recognizing my mother. I’m Susan Ahn Cuddy’s son. Chief Petty Officer Francis X. Cuddy CTCS worked for OP20G and was a code breaker with Joe Rochefort at Station Hypo. He is Susan Ahn Cuddy’s husband. They were married in 1947. Because of racial discrimination laws the Cuddy’s could not get married in Maryland or Virginia. They had to go to the Naval Chapel in Washington DC. My father was one of the group of code breakers who figured out the Jap codes for the Battle of Midway. He also worked on the information to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto’s plane. After World War II Chief Cuddy was at Yokosuka and managed the Navy Seahawks Baseball Team. He retired in 1963.
For anyone who knows Wahiawa history Chief Cuddy tended bar at the Top Hat and The 19th Hole.
BTW – In paragraph two if you place a period after 1902 and made one sentence the “clairvoyant” mention is of no consequence: “Following the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910, the Japanese tried to eradicate the Korean language and much of the country’s culture.”