Susan Ahn Cuddy

Susan Ahn Cuddy was born in 1915 in Los Angeles, California. Before she was born, her parents were the first Korean married couple to immigrate to the United States: Dozan Ahn Changho and Helen Lee.[1]

Cuddy’s father returned to Korea in 1926 to work with the Korean resistance against Japanese colonization. He served as the President of the Provincial Government of the Republic of Korea for a few days in May of 1926. Throughout his years of activism, the Japanese punished and tortured him several times. In 1932, he was arrested in Shanghai, China, in connection with the bombing of Hongkew Park. At that time, he was a naturalized Chinese citizen and was illegally extradited back to Korea, where he was convicted of violating Japan’s preservation of peace laws. He was sentenced to five years in Taejon prison. In 1937, he was arrested again by Japanese authorities. However, he was sick and was therefore released on bail. He died on March 10, 1938. Dozan Ahn Changho is seen as one of Korea’s most crucial moral and philosophical leaders during the twentieth century.[2]

Back in America, the Ahn Cuddy home became the headquarters for the Young Koreans Academy.[3] Their house also became a place that many exiled Korean patriots visited. Susan would later say that her parent’s dedication to Korean independence played a defining role in her identity. She graduated from San Diego State University in 1940 and joined the United States Navy in 1942.[4]

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ahn Cuddy was accepted into the United States Naval Reserve Midshipman School in Northampton, Massachusetts. There, she became the first Asian American woman to serve in the Navy. She would later tell a biographer that “a lot of people thought that women didn’t belong in the service. That made us try harder.”[5] She felt that her Navy service was a great way to honor her father’s legacy, especially since she would be fighting against the Japanese.[6]

In 1943, she became an instructor on link trainer flight simulators. She would later become the first female aerial gunnery officer in the Navy. One of her main jobs was to instruct male recruits in air combat tactics, including the firing of 0.50 caliber machine guns in the air.[7] During the war, she made her way up to the rank of lieutenant. She would go on to work for the United States, Navy Intelligence, and then the Library of Congress. She also worked for the National Security Agency in DC.[8]

After WWII and during the Cold War, Ahn Cuddy was in charge of a think tank of over three hundred agents working in the Russian sector.[9] She also held a fellowship from the National Security Agency to study at the University of Southern California. Until 1959, Ahn Cuddy worked on top-secret projects for the Department of Defense and other agencies.[10]

In 2003, Susan was named the Woman of the Year by the California State Assembly District 28. In 2006, she received the American Courage Award from the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, DC.[11] She campaigned for Barack Obama and was a breast cancer survivor. Susan Ahn Cuddy passed away on June 24, 2015, at the age of one hundred.[12]

[1] Lange, Katie (30 April 2021). “Navy Lt. Susan Ahn Cuddy Carved the Path for Asian American Women”. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.
[2] Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs. “안창호”. (in Korean).
[3] “Ahn Family House > Korean Studies Institute > USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences”
[4] “‘Living Legend’ Susan Ahn Cuddy Passes Away at 100”.
[5] Gandhi, Lakshmi. “The Asian American Women Who Fought to Make Their Mark in WWII”. HISTORY.
[6] Sigler, Lora Ann (2022). Wartime style : fashion and American culture during 20th century conflicts. Jefferson, North Carolina
[7] Sigler, Lora Ann (2022). Wartime style : fashion and American culture during 20th century conflicts. Jefferson, North Carolina.
[8] Daniels, Paula (1996), Susan Ahn Cuddy Oral Histories,
[9] “Navy Lt. Susan Ahn Cuddy Carved the Path for Asian American Women”. U.S. Department of Defense.
[10] Kim, Sung (6 May 2020). “Susan Ahn Cuddy: Asian American Trailblazer”. Los Angeles Public Library Blog.
[11] “Past Awardees”.
[12] “‘Living Legend’ Susan Ahn Cuddy Passes Away at 100”.

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